Staff profile: Patti Potter

It was Patti Potter’s own troubled knee that eventually led to her teaching the Wellness Center aquatics classes that are so good for people with joint troubles. 

“I was a member here since the day it opened,” she says. “I came the very first day and worked out on the floor.Back then, she started with the stairclimber because she anticipated climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for her upcoming 50th birthday.  However, it turned out the machine troubled her knee and, on the advice of her doctor, she decided to try out the water aerobics classes instead. 

Pretty soon, she gave up everything she was doing on the fitness floor and just concentrated on the aquatics classes. However, she says, “I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t think it was enough of a workout. But by the fourth class I really liked it and figured out how to work with the water.”

 And that’s the key, she says. Working with the water, using its resistance against the body, to get a workout that is beneficial, yet much easier on the body than similar land-based moves. 

 “You can’t be a jellyfish in the water,” she’s always telling her students.  “You have to push through the water and make it feel like work.”

Patti now teaches three days a week, covering both the 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. water aerobics classes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Then, at 10 a.m. on those days, she teaches an Arthritis class in the therapy pool.  She’ll also fill in as the instructor for the prenatal class. In addition to her aquatics teaching, she still takes care of Tuesday and Thursday EEG appointments in Neurology, as needed.

Patti had worked in the Monadock Community Hospital’s radiology department for 27 years, as an x-ray technician.  She had to leave employment in 2007 to take care of her mother in Florida , but upon her return, the aquatics department had an opening for a part-time instructor and Patti jumped at the chance. She had been doing the classes all along and had gotten certified to teach back in 2004.   

Attendees at her M-W-F aerobics classes are mostly women who have been doing the same classes together for years now.  They’ve formed friendships, and a hiking group, outside the class, Patti says.

In fact, Patti even organized about 20 of them to take a cruise together last February—a fitness cruise—during which Patti provided water aerobics training daily.  It was such a success, many of them will be going again this year.  Patti isn’t formally teaching this time, however. 

 “The nice thing about the water versus the land is the water’s buoyancy reduces the impact and stress on the joints,” Patti says. “Then, everyone can work at their own pace by altering the intensity.”

Patti will have participants use a variety of equipment such as Styrofoam barbells, paddles, weights, gloves and noodles. Using them contributes to the strength training and muscle toning.

“The barbells we use in the water don’t weigh anything. It’s the resistence of pulling them through the water that creates the workout,” she says.

Patti’s Arthritis classes are the same way—they’ve attracted a loyal following who have been together for years.  In that class, Patti follows a set of exercises and uses the guidelines of the Arthritis Foundation, aiming at improving joint range of motion, balance, strength, and flexibility, as well as maintaining the functions of independent daily activities. The social interaction among the members is a main component of the class, Patti says.

The exercises and the warm water (the therapy pool is kept at 94 degrees) are beneficial in a number of ways, Patti says. “It’s a lot less impact on the joints,” she said. “They can put a belt on and get into the deep water and get a really good workout.”

She also thinks it gives them confidence to move a little more. If they fall, they can’t get hurt, she says.  They learn both strength and balance by working with the water.

“We walk the tightrope—we walk on a line heal to toe—and most could not do that on land,” she says. 

The class also works with steps, going up and down on a step at the bottom of the pool, without holding on.  “The water holds them up.  There’s a lot they can do in the water that would not be easy to do on land,” she says.

In the prenatal classes, participants come and go, of course, but Patti sees the women there forming friendships while getting their exercise.  The class is great at letting these women get some exercise but to be comfortable while doing so. 

She wishes more of them would come earlier in their pregnancy, however, rather than toward the end, simply because it is so good for them.  In that class, they get aerobic training, plus flexibility and balance.

What does she like about teaching?

“It’s nice to get paid to exercise and socialize,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. The women really like the class and appreciate me as an instructor. And, I kind of feel like we’re family.”

She hears her students talk about feeling stronger and healthier. “Some have lost weight and they feel better about their bodies, “ she said.  “They feel like they’re doing the right thing for themselves.”

As for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Well, that didn’t happen. But she does have a goal now of climbing Machu Picchu in Peru, with her husband, Dr. James Potter from Jaffrey Family Medicine.

So does she do exercise outside of teaching three classes a week?

 “Oh, yes. Everything I do is physical–biking, hiking, kayaking, gardening,” she said. “I’m just a physical person in general.”

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