The healing power of water

Written on Jan 5th, 2015 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog

By Marlene Farrell

My first visit to the pool was about a month after the bizarre running accident that broke my ankle and sent me to surgery for a plate and 10 screws. I’d been out of the cast for four days but every time I’d taken it out of the protective boot, it was stiff and fragile; the discolored skin puckered around the incision sites.

Marlene Farrell

The East Wenatchee Y pool was about to change that.

Every little movement and stretch, as I swam laps and treaded water, was a new beginning, a return to motion after long periods of stillness. My nervous excitement bubbled over; I was a kid learning to ride a bike. I got a rush of believing in myself. The lifeguards kept a friendly eye on me and handed me my crutch and walking boot as soon as I popped out of the pool, hands and butt first. I was so grateful; they gave me back my confidence in small doses.

The water awakened and worked sleeping muscles. While I swam the crawl stroke and bicycled in the deep end, I did little mental checks of my ankle, my barely pivoting foot and my skinny calf. I could be in sync with my body again.

The hardest part was the shower afterward, but the Y is equipped with a shower chair, which saved me from sitting on the floor with my boot and towel just out of reach of the spray.

My husband Kevin joined me for my second swim. We got in for free during the “Try the Y” offer period. And I was told I could become a member and waive the initiation fee. It’s like the world was looking out for me and giving me a gentle shove, saying, “Do this. It is good for you (and affordable too).”

I would, if I had to, pay a high price for the feeling that comes over me in the pool. There is no ka-klunking around in my big black walking boot. I can slip through the pool as easily as a seasoned swimmer.

I could tell that in the next lane over Kevin was swimming faster than me. When we treaded water together he had to work harder to keep from sinking. My “womanly” body fat made me more buoyant. Normally these things would depress the competitor in me. But this time it just couldn’t suppress the joy of perpetual movement. I was suspended in the moment while my limbs scooped and paddled and circled in the water.

On my third visit, I thought how swimming laps reminds me of treadmill running. There can be a mind-numbing repetitiveness to it. Instead of succumbing to that feeling, I placed myself in the mental space reserved for when I ran in the dark, chasing the dim spotlight of my headlamp. In the pool, my goggles fogged up despite my best efforts to coat them in spit. So the world was muted through a goggle haze and the watery expansion and muffling of sound. There was only a peripheral awareness of kids tossing a beach ball in the open swim area. I was luxuriously alone, following the black line beneath me. The crosshatches marked the end where I tapped with my hand, spun around, and bounded off the wall with my good foot. Those instances of springing power and streamlining like an otter were so satisfying yet fleeting that I was tempted into a few more laps.

The deep end was being used for diving, so I treaded water as best I could in the middle five feet depth of the walking lane. Above me was a string of pennant flags like I see on the sides of finishing chutes at races. As I held my position, running nowhere, it was like I was in a race of one, which started and ended at the finish line.

I am a runner who can’t, right now, run on the snow-crusted road drenched in sunshine. I have to find solace in a giant rectangular tub, surrounded by echoing concrete, going back and forth, back and forth. Despite what has been taken away, I am giddy with each opportunity to participate in my own healing and return to running.

Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at

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