Taking the Plunge at Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury

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By Christy Brudin

As the sun begins to rise over the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, a few dedicated swimmers prepare to take the plunge. Even at this early hour, their enthusiasm is palpable.

These swimmers are residents of Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Winchester, Va., featuring a state-of-the-art aquatic center. While the swimmers certainly enjoy the physical benefits of working out, it is the social connections that keep them coming back.

“The pool is really a social meeting place,” explained Kathy Headley, Westminster-Canterbury’s Wellness and Vitality Manager. “Of course, we’re working out at the same time and doing valuable exercises that most of us can’t do on land.”

While many residents swim purely for recreation, Kathy goes on to note that some of the community’s swimmers are recovering from a joint replacement, coping with arthritis or managing a chronic illness. “They can do so much more in the water: run, jump, and walk, and it’s more resistance and just a better workout,” she said.

As several face personal health challenges, the swimmers have become part of a tight-knit group in an extremely welcoming community. “Even though there are nearly 400 residents, this community is one big family,” said Kathy.

Westminster-Canterbury’s swimmers unanimously agree. While they are certainly dedicated to their workouts, they are even more committed to their fellow swimmers, and they are always looking for new recruits.DC retirement living sourcebook cover

A Pool Ambassador

An avid lap swimmer, Paul Ziluca has helped unite Westminster-Canterbury’s growing group of swimmers by encouraging residents to take full advantage of the oversized pool. Paul started swimming to increase his lung capacity and battle his worsening asthma. In the past four years, he has quietly lent a hand to make sure the aquatic programming meets the needs of the various types of swimmers on campus.

“When I came here, I did my best to avoid doing anything. I was going to be really retired,” Paul recalled. “Within just a couple of years, I was involved in everything. It’s been very engaging for me and quite an eye opener about how to manage your life as you get older.”

While Paul is certainly proud of his own aquatic accomplishments, he beams when he speaks of his wife, Louise, and her achievements in the pool. “We moved here because of my wife’s Parkinson’s disease,” Paul said. “Now, she’s in a
wheelchair, but this summer, she participated in the aquatic walking event in our Senior Olympics, and she won a gold medal!” Paul went on to explain that Louise’s determination has become a source of inspiration for other residents.

Aquatic Athletes (and Friends)

Bob and Cari Sherwood were inspired by her aunt to move to a retirement community early, so they could enjoy the lifestyle. The couple is now among the youngest residents at Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, and they have never regretted their move.

“We’re just delighted that we moved. Within six months, we got to know so many pleasant people, and we’ve become very close to a number of them,” Bob said.

In addition to their new friends, the Sherwoods also love all the community amenities, including the pool. They routinely share this perk with their grandson, who enjoys open swim time when he visits each week. Bob also participates in an advanced aquatic class – even occasionally teaching it – which has become a balm for his spirit.

“The class is more than just a class,” he said. “It’s become a social event in and of itself. It’s a lot more than just swimming.”

Bob goes on to explain that in addition to aquatic exercises the group enjoys singing traditional songs and taking advantage of the acoustics in the pool area. The group also selects a word of the day, which they use as part of their workouts.

“I think the people in the class are, if you will, missionaries for the benefits of exercise,” Bob said. The class members are also one example among many of what life is like in a strong community: full of camaraderie and support.

Swim Buddies 

The Sherwoods certainly aren’t the only Westminster-Canterbury residents who benefit from the accessibility of aquatic exercise. Elizabeth and Jimmie Harp swim six days a week, all year round. They started swimming because Elizabeth was experiencing back pain.

“The doctor told me that if I didn’t keep moving, soon I wouldn’t be able to move,” Elizabeth said. Jimmie became her swim buddy, and the two now enjoy spending early mornings together in the water.

The couple moved to Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury three-and-a-half years ago after some of their friends exposed them to the wonderful lifestyle. “I wanted to be around more people and see them on a more regular basis,” said Elizabeth. “Too many people say they’re not ready, but we wanted to move before it was an emergency.”

Since moving, the couple has become very involved in the community. Jimmie is a devoted woodworker and has repaired furniture and built custom pieces for his fellow residents in Westminster-Canterbury’s woodworking shop. Elizabeth enjoys the community’s many entertainment and volunteer opportunities.

A Great Comeback

Lydia Mefford was desperately looking for support when she discovered Westminster-Canterbury. Her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease, had recently passed away. As his primary caregiver, she quickly realized she needed friendship and interaction. She found a wonderful group of people who sustained her through her grieving process and were there for her when she faced her own health challenges.

After a traumatic fall resulted in a broken meniscus and excruciating pain, Lydia benefited from the physical and emotional support of the community’s residents and staff. “When my orthopedic surgeon said I needed a physical therapist and a therapeutic pool, I knew just where to go,” Lydia smiled as she recalled. “I came home to Westminster-Canterbury and spoke with our physical therapist immediately. After two weeks of his magical maneuvers, the pain was going away. Now, I can walk in high heels anytime I want.”

After regaining her mobility, Lydia kept swimming. She’s now able to fully enjoy all that her new home has to offer. “I’ve never had more fun in my whole life,” Lydia exclaimed. “I really think perhaps I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

True Team Spirit

Some folks dive right in. Others wade in more slowly. These divergent approaches could be used to describe both swimming and retirement living. Some retirees make the move early and never look back; others take their time making a decision. However, almost all retirees find that once they take the plunge into retirement living, they quickly discover new interests, great friends and old passions.

In the wee hours of the morning, a few dedicated swimmers make their way across the quiet campus of Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury — excited to greet the dawning of a new day and eager to take the plunge once again. Having discovered a pastime with unmatched physical, social and emotional benefits, they are now busy soaking up all that retirement living has to offer.

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