Everyone can Learn To Swim, no matter what!

Local man Chris Hall, 66, recently decided that he would take the plunge and learn to swim, a brave choice for anyone, but especially impressive when considering the mobility challenges Mr Hall has to overcome to even attend lessons. Mr Hall suffers from Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, meaning that he is unable to walk unassisted.
Born in Concord, but having lived in Emu Plains for the past 35 years, Chris was an extremely active and sporty individual, playing cricket, rugby league, squash, running, including completing the City To Surf in 64 minutes, and his great love – hockey – which he played and coached both locally and regionally up to 4 times a week for over 30 years. However the last time Mr Hall completed the City to Surf it took 5 and ¼ hours, as he was using a walking frame. Next time Mr Hall takes part he will most likely be in a wheelchair.
In 2000, Chris began to develop a limp. He delayed getting a medical opinion, (as many of us do when leading full and busy lives, and perhaps out of a fear of what we might find out). When he sought treatment, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP) was diagnosed. Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), also called familial spastic paraparesis (FSP), and refers to a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by progressive weakness and spasticity (stiffness) of the legs, which typically slowly progresses so that eventually individuals with HSP require the assistance of a cane, walker, then wheelchair. In short, the stem cell nerves progressively reduce their interaction with the muscles of the lower body. However, the term “hereditary” can be misleading, as none of Mr Halls 6 siblings or 4 daughters have displayed any symptoms of the disease.
Chris received no treatment between 2000 and 2004, but in 2004 began to lose close play skills in sport, as well as both fine and motor skills, flexibility, reach, mobility and balance. He now uses a walking frame, and a wheelchair on “special occasions”. Mr Hall also lives with a type of Leukemia, which is currently controlled.
However, Chris Hall is not one to let any of his health issues stop him from living a life fuller than most. He spent 32 years in the child protection industry before retiring in 2012, and is a “mad gardener”, a “music nut” who goes to the Blue Mountains Music Festival every year, who loves to cook, volunteers 4 days a week at Westmead Children’s Hospital and the Nepean Cancer Care Clinic, enjoys visiting the local Men’s Shed, and has an enviable exercise regime. Mr Hall attends the Neuromones Program – a special program run under Spinal Cord Injuries of Australia to keep the muscles of the legs as strong as possible – 3 times a week, plus his own daily exercise at home with resistance bands. When I ask what the motivation is for all of this physical activity, it is quite simply “a desire to be fit, trim and healthy”.
Chris suffered a setback to his independence when in 2017 when his driver’s license was cancelled, but, determined (or stubborn as he puts it) as ever, he attended lessons to learn to use hand held controls in a modified car, and reobtained his license after only 10 weeks.
Which is why Mr Halls recent decision to Learn to Swim does not come as a surprise. Having never been able to swim and “missing out on all the fun when others were in the water”, Mr Hall decided that swimming was the next sport he needed to conquer, and what better time than now? As a 14 year old child, he had been instructed to “get wet” at a school swimming carnival, jumped in, and sank right to the bottom of the 6ft deep end of Lithgow Pool. Despite his children learning to swim, Mr Halls next attempt was in 2016 at Emerton Leisure Centre with an instructor he had met through the HSP movement, however this was short lived due to the instructor moving away.
Until last week, when Mr Hall resumed lessons at Eva Bory’s Swim School, with the aim of learning to be “as competent as possible, be safe and have fun”. With the intention to do 2 to 3 private lessons per week until he reaches this goal, we have no doubt he will achieve this life saving skill in record time.
When asked what he would say to another adult considering learning to swim, but hesitating, Mr Hall said “ask what is stopping you, have you tried swimming before, what else do you want to achieve physically or in sport? We should never stop growing and changing and challenging ourselves”. Personally, I look at Chris and think “if he can do it, anyone can”, and am looking forward to seeing him move freely in the water, and the mobility that such an outcome will provide.
As for the HSP, there is no treatment, no reversal, just “keeping as strong as I can to ward off the wheelchair for as long as possible”. Mr Hall keeps up to date with research and medical advances on the HSP website, and although any timelines are currently undetermined, he does maintain that there is “hope for others for the future” suffering the same condition.
Adult private lessons are available at Eva Bory’s Swim School, Emu Plains.
For further information please contact Julie Fletcher, on 0416 757663 or via julie@nepeanswim.com.au