Intro: Have you ever had something that you just keep putting off until tomorrow? Have you found the right tomorrow, or are you still looking for it? Kitty Hevener has found hers.

The Story: When I heard a knock on my door, along with the voice of my friend Ruth, saying, “are you ready, Kitty?,” I knew that my tomorrow had come, whether or not I was ready, so I grabbed my bag and headed for the door. We rode to Xavier University’s O’Connor Sports Center in silence. But if you had been sitting beside me in that car, you would have heard my heart pounding.

I thought, ok, I know I need to lose some weight. It’s already hard to find nice clothes that fit me well. Dieting has never worked for me and I doubt that water aerobics will either. I’d promised Ruth I would try it just one time. But that was then and this was now! I never did well in physical education classes, and to this day I can hear the other kids laughing at my poor athletic abilities and making rude comments. When I finished college, I vowed that I would never step foot in another exercise class. How can I tell Ruth I don’t want to go through with it? This whole thing came about because I told Ruth how much I enjoyed swimming in college&38212;until I realized I couldn’t keep up with anyone and that I hated swimming, too.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and noticed the car had stopped. The butterflies flying around in my stomach were making me sick. Ruth said, “I think you’re really going to like Scott Perry, your water aerobics instructor. He’s very gentle and patient, and he’s really excited about working with you.”

Scott met us at the pool. Ruth introduced us and then disappeared. As I sat on the bench trying to hide beneath my towel, which was less than adequate for the job, Scott talked with me about previous exercise experience and relevant medical information. He then began explaining some of the exercises we’d be doing in the water. Tears welled up in my eyes and I tried hard to suppress them. “Kitty, you seem really nervous”, Scott said. “What’s going on?”

“Scott, class hasn’t even started and I’ve already forgotten the names and descriptions of many of the exercises you just gave me. I tend to learn exercises better if someone physically puts me through the motions. I know that isn’t going to happen here since people just aren’t comfortable touching in today’s society.” Scott reassured me, saying, “my class is very hands-on. I find that most sighted people also learn better if I physically put them through the motions. I’m very comfortable touching people, I guess I got used to it when I played football for the Cincinnati Bengals.”

I protested that it would only be a matter of time before he kicked me out because I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Scott wouldn’t hear it. “Kitty, try not to worry. No one fails here. Although a few people are somewhat athletic, many are just like you. For example, Joe has multiple sclerosis; he stays by the wall to be sure of better balance and support. Joan has had a stroke, and can’t use the left side of her body unless she’s in the water and has some help. Margaret recently had a hip replacement and she’s using the water exercises to regain as much motion in her hip as possible. Everyone works at their own pace. Water is a safe place to exercise. You aren’t going to get hurt because you aren’t using all of your weight, so it’s very low impact. You’ll discover that you can move much better than you can on land.”

I begin to notice that other people were softly talking. It’s time for class to start. “Just do the best you can”, Scott said, “and try to have fun.”

After a few minutes of relaxation and gentle stretching on the deck, we all got into the water. Scott stood close by so I could hear him, and I soon realized he was doing the exercises with us. I also noticed he was saying positive things to everyone in the class. I never heard him yell at anyone or tell them to try harder. Despite all the positive energy, I became convinced that I was in the wrong place. By the time I had managed to figure out one exercise, class had already moved on to the next one.

After what seemed like an eternity, when the class finally ended all I wanted was to escapeā€”but I couldn’t find the ladder. For the first time I could recall, I really hated being blind! I knew if I could see, I could quickly find that ladder and flee before anyone noticed. Tears started streaming down my face, so I hid my face underwater, still trying to find the ladder. As far as anyone knew, I had just disappeared. Then I sensed someone standing beside me and Scott said, “Kitty, I think I know what happened. I’d like to do some one-on-one work with you. Do you have a few minutes?”

This was shocking, and had never happened to me before with exercise work. I told Scott that since Ruth had given me a ride, I really had to leave. But Ruth insisted that it was important and she had plenty of time, so Scott started showing me some of the exercises, gently moving my arms and legs through the motions. After three or four he stopped, and what he said next blew me away. “I’m truly impressed with the courage you showed in coming today. Appreciate yourself for what you have just doneā€”for doing everything you can at this very moment to take care of yourself. You had a great first session and I’d really like to see you come back.”

I replied that I was impressed by his attitude and skill and was tempted to try the class again, but I didn’t trust myself to remember what he’d shown me. Then there was transportationā€”I didn’t want to be dependent on Ruth. Or what if I had to take a bus, I didn’t even know what the closest bus stop was, and what if I couldn’t cross the street when I got off the bus? Was there a bus?? And what if I couldn’t afford the class?!

One by one Scott shot down my barriers. He assured me that he would make the class affordable, personally help me learn the bus route, AND deal with the intersection. He kept those promises, and I signed up for 6 more sessions.

By the 6th session I was enjoying the class and the other students. I dreaded meeting with Scottā€”would he tell me I hadn’t progressed fast enough? I knew I hadn’t lost any weight. But I didn’t want to lose the friendships I was developing, nor the fun. What a relief: when we met he told me he was quite pleased with my progress and hoped I could continue participating. He then broached the weight subject.

Scott asked me this very important question that I’ll ask you: Do you know what it really takes to lose weight and keep it off? Scott’s answer made a huge impact on my life and maybe it will do the same for you. Scott said diets don’t work, except for the short term. To lose weight and keep it off, you have to incorporate diet AND exercise into your lifestyle. Luckily, dieting doesn’t mean depriving yourself, it means monitoring portions. There are helpful things to try, for instance if you feel hungry, drinking a glass of water can do the trick, and for meals, eat more slowly and take smaller bites. You can experiment with smaller portions.

To maintain your weight you need to exercise 3 times per week for at least 20 minutes. To lose weight, you have to exercise a bit more often. I protested that getting to the pool more than 3 times a week might not be possible. So Scott suggested an exercise plan I could do at home with things already on hand, like using cans of food for weights. All of these changes seemed possible. I started to think differently, including the possibility of leaving food on my plate. The next time I went to my favorite restaurant and ordered a burger and fries, as I got near the end, it hit me: this is the last bite, what am I going to do with it? As it was headed toward my mouth, I reversed directions and left it on my plate. That felt so good! Because one thing I was really into: things that are observable and measurable. Yes, the tiny bite was still on my plate when I walked away. Over time, I was able to leave more and more on my plate, and you know what? I also increased the amount of exercise, and worked with Scott on a program I could do in the privacy of my apartment without lavish exercise equipment. I started working out to one song, and then increased that over time. As I gradually increased both the exercise and amount of food I could leave on my plate, I discovered the numbers on my scale started going down. I couldn’t believe the choices I now had in clothing that were attractive and fit me well. I felt as though I were unwrapping a new me! I started wondering what else this new me could do. I worked with students on Xavier University’s swim team and became a better swimmer. I overcame my fear of jumping off the side of the pool into the water, and in fact, eventually I learned to dive off a one-meter board, head first. People weren’t laughing, they were cheering me on. The more I did, the more curious I became about what I could do that I had never tried before. I went to a Club Med. I’d always wanted to try water-skiing. Well, I tried and tried and didn’t get up until a few vacations later. I went sailing, and swam in their pool, confidently. I did their water aerobics classes, with confidence. And I even went off a flying trapeze, something I really had not planned on doing!

Later, I was shocked when my doctor told me that I was actually underweight.

Scott and I eventually went our separate ways, but no matter where I move, I make finding a swimming pool a high priority. At one point, I was able to swim a mile to a mile and a quarter without stopping. I was also able to use my skills as a swimmer to raise money for various charities. Imagine that! I had never dreamed of being able to do something of that magnitude. Twenty years since meeting Scott, I continue to swim and work out in the water. Things have changedā€”I’ll never swim the mile and a quarter that I used to without stopping. I have a variety of injuries which cause pain and I need to stop and do more stretching. I’ve continued to do water aerobics and have started riding a water bike. I always keep my eyes open for new things I can try in the water. I do it all with confidence now, and I don’t care what people think. I know that I’m taking care of myself and having fun at the same time, because I chose to make exercise and weight management a part of my lifestyle.

To this day, I credit and thank Scott Perry for giving me a process that has empowered me to live a healthier life. If you keep looking for the right tomorrow, you may eventually find yourself facing limited clothing selections and a host of medical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Instead, I hope you soon find yourself unwrapping a new you.

The Contact: Kitty Hevener