des moines, humor, Iowa, life, mental health, obesity

CANNONBALL! The weak-legged leap toward wellness begins with a big splash.

Thursday was the first day of the new pool season at my home. I hobbled from my apartment to our swimming pool in the courtyard. A little girl opened the gate for me, sparing me the indignity of fumbling for keys as my arthritic knees and back cried out for me to sit down.

I thanked my neighbor and slowly, unsteadily made my way toward the 5-foot end of the pool. A group of young girls played, splashed and screamed in the shallow end.

I smiled. Hardly anyone used the pool last year. I remember having the whole pool to myself on the Fourth of July. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but we’re getting better. We are freer.

The pandemic’s forced shut down is part of the reason I was so desperate for pool season to open. I lost my job in the middle of it and spent nearly a year in isolation. Obese before the global crisis, I gained more weight and the absence of movement and poor eating choices combined with chronic arthritis made mobility a greater challenge than ever in my life.

The pool provided the perfect opportunity for free physical therapy. A previous trip through paid aquatic therapy left me with a laminated list of exercises. I owned the tools for the job: a pool noodle, some foam dumbbells, a stretch rubber tube tied in a circle and resistance bells for punching the water.

I jumped into the pool off the side. My knees didn’t bend much, but I sunk all the way to the bottom. The cold water took my breath away, but my body quickly acclimated. The sun hovered directly overhead. The 84-degree day lacked even a hint of humidity.

I usually listen to music when I exercise, but I forgot my portable speaker. The pair of earbuds I bought were billed as waterproof, but I could barely hear my beloved Taylor Swift. I tossed them in my gym bag. What can you expect for $20?

It didn’t matter. I enjoyed listening to the children play. This happened during the pandemic, I’m sure. But the city’s pools never opened in Des Moines. And our complex didn’t open our pool until late June. Pandemic restrictions meant no deck chairs for relaxing so only a few people were in the pool.

One of the women watching the kids called a friend on her smartphone.

“We outside,” she said. “At the pool. Come over here. Right now.”

There was something special about the way she said outside. A place that for so long had been forbidden and pochmarched with warnings in tall red print was now open.

Soon more people showed up and a beachball started to fly. I worked through my exercises and suppressed a small flash of jealousy at the kids’ unfettered dexterity climbing in and out of the pool, jumping, running and chasing.

The pandemic made us all kind of shut-ins. My personal purgatory left my body weak, potentially riddled with permanent pain and loss of movement.

But I am studying to be a teacher. Movement is part of the gig. I travelled the long road of weight loss once before and wrote about it for the local newspaper. The story was popular for a while, but people — or at least editors — lost interest.

The gross fiction of shows such as “The Biggest Loser” create the idea that there is a magic camp somewhere where you can lose hundreds of pounds and get fit.

You can if you have a chef preparing your meals and workout at an unhealthy and dangerous pace. And even then, you can’t sustain it. Studies have shown “The Biggest Loser” candidates regain their weight and damage their metabolism in the process.

I hold no hopes of being a beefcake. Even in the days when my body could tolerate scaled CrossFit workouts, something arthritis prevents for now, my goal was to maintain mobility. I dropped to do burpees because I wanted to be able to get books off the bottom shelf.

I can’t do that today. What I could do on Tuesday, though, was start a journey.

I’m going to get better — one splash at a time.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.