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Aquatics center is source of healing waters

Staff writer

Among the swimmers who take advantage of open lap times at the Marion Sports and Aquatics Center pool, Mark Strand gets the prize for “swimmer who travels the furthest.”

Nearly every morning, the Herington resident makes the 26-mile trip to work out in the water, and with good reason.

Strand has lived with severely injured shoulders for more than three decades, but the pool eases his pain.

“People need to pay attention to that pool; it’s too valuable,” Strand said. “When I see kids in the pool, I tell them to never stop swimming.”

The 59-year-old learned the value of aquatic therapy after tearing both rotator cuffs in a volleyball game at age 28. But after rehabbing at the Marion Aquatics Center for the past three years and having a stem cell treatment four months ago, Strand says he’s feeling physically fine for the first time since 1982.

“I can sleep and that freaks me out,” Strand said. “I couldn’t sleep on my side. For 32 years, I’ve been flipping and flopping like fish. Now I can go to sleep. It’s so odd. You learn to live with pain.”

The time in the pool has made Strand a familiar face.

“He’s a big guy,” said Kylie Schroeder, Marion aquatics director. “His body is very toned. He does abdominal exercises and stability exercises, and he has given me a lot of that information. He’s very grateful and always wants people to have that knowledge.”

At 5 feet 10 inches and weighing 210 pounds, Strand’s strong core compensated for his weak shoulders. The former steel worker kept doing his job for years despite his serious injuries.

“That was not easy,” Strand said. “I couldn’t pick my arm up. I couldn’t scratch my nose. I think God was following me around. You can’t imagine working in a steel plant. I just did it. Then I couldn’t sleep for a week or two. Now that I think about it, it was kind of a nightmare.”

Since 2008, Strand has worked maintenance at Herington Municipal Hospital, where much of the physical work is overhead and requires him to reach up.

Strand credits his wife, Elva, a physical therapist assistant, with helping him work through his own physical limitations and pain. They met about a year and a half after Strand first injured his shoulders during the volleyball game. Elva showed him how to stretch. Following his wife’s instructions and his own discoveries of movement, Strand regained a limited range of motion, but always with pain that never went away.

“My wife fixed me with exercise,” Strand said. “If I hadn’t met her I’d be disabled.”

Strand said he re-tore his rotator cuffs about ten times over the years doing everyday activities, such as swinging a hammer and fishing.

He tried painkillers but the medication just made him not care, and that didn’t work for Strand. He refused to undergo surgery because the success rate wasn’t high enough, he said.

Then about three years ago, Strand was helping push a car out of mud when he injured his knee. He figured he could compensate for his knee the same way he got through life with his injured shoulders. However, his bum knee made his back sore, which compounded the pain always present in his shoulders.

He knew he had to do something new, and so he followed his wife’s advice and pursued aqua therapy at the Marion pool.

For the first year, he did therapy exercises in the water exclusively. He lost 40 pounds without trying. His shoulders were weak and tired easily, but the exercises helped.

Soon after he began swimming a mile he re-injured his shoulder while awkwardly lifting his neighbor’s motorcycle helmet over a fence. Strand had to reduce his laps in the pool to five and gradually build back his endurance.

Five months ago Strand’s wife Elva arrived home from work and told him about the Kansas Regenerative Medicine Center in Manhattan, which specializes in stem cell therapy. Strand signed up.

During the four-hour procedure, physicians took stem cells from his back and injected them into his shoulders and knee.

The procedure was part of a study for the Food and Drug Administration that cost him $9,000 because insurance would not cover it, he said.

The stem cells, which specialize and re-grow tissue, went to work repairing muscles, tendons, cartilage and bone.

Now for the first time in 32 years he has full range of motion with his arms and no pain.

And for the first time in a year, Strand is fishing again. He has gone casting every day for the past two weeks.

“I’m not pushing it yet,” Strand said. “All that cartilage is brand new. I don’t want to strain myself too much.”

Strand cannot forget his experience working his job in the steel factory, often wearing a sling on an arm. “When you live with pain, after a while it becomes normal,” Strand said.

His recent good turn of health does not mean Strand has stopped visiting the pool. He’s committed to the aqua therapy at the Marion Aquatics Center.

“He prefers that there are a lot of people in the water,” Schroeder said. “It helps use muscles that he typically doesn’t use because he has to adapt to (the current and) the people in the water.”

Strand also enjoys interacting with other swimmers.

“I’m a kid magnet,” Strand said. “I end up splashing with all the kids and that helps me use all my muscles.”

Strand is also very willing to share his wealth of rehabbing knowledge.

“He’s very easy to talk to,” Schroeder said, adding that “quite a few people” use the pool for swimming laps and exercise and Strand has become a familiar face.

“He tells you a little and goes on his way,” Schroeder said. “You see him and you can tell he’s a very fit person. People listen to him.”

The Marion Aquatics Center is open during for lap swimming at the following times:

  • Lap swimming Monday through Friday mornings 5:15-8 a.m.; Monday and Wednesday evenings 7-8 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday evenings 6-7 p.m.
  • Aerobics Monday through Friday mornings 8-9 a.m.; Monday and Wednesday evenings 7-8 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday evenings 6-7 p.m.
  • Open swim Monday and Wednesday evenings 6-7 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday afternoon 4-6 p.m.
  • For more information, phone the Marion Aquatics Center at 620-382-2117 or 316-833-9508.

Last modified Oct. 29, 2014

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