Retired prof makes a splash to aid arthritis victims

Zoe Hayes (on the pool deck) leads a recent aqua-arthritis class at St. F.X.’s Alumni Aquatic Centre. The retired psychology professor has taught the life-changing classes for more than 10 years. Corey LeBlanc

The Casket

For the more than a decade, Zoe Hayes has been making a splash with her students.
The retired psychology professor continues to teach – but now aqua-arthritis is the subject – with the St. F.X. Alumni Aquatic Centre serving as her classroom.
“Zoe is incredibly generous – she is selfless and gives so much of herself,” St. F.X. aquatics co-ordinator Bethany Theuerkauf said.

With the pool serving as a back drop, Hayes reflected on her start with the health – and life-changing – regimen.
After a knee replacement in 2004, she said her physiotherapist recommended water exercise – advice she took and continued two years later after hip surgery.
“It is focussed on building strength and flexibility,” Hayes explained.
She eventually took the required training to be an aqua-arthritis instructor. Since then, Hayes has taught three classes per week.
“If Zoe can be there, then I can be there,” student Debbie Cameron MacDonald said in illustrating Hayes’ dedication and how she serves as inspiration for her students.
Cameron MacDonald started the classes 10 years ago, on the recommendation of her doctor.
“It could be something as simple as standing up straight while shopping,” she said of the myriad benefits the classes can provide.
Cameron MacDonald noted her gains have included regained core body strength.
“She is a role model, in so many ways, including for healthy and active living,” Theuerkauf said of the soon-to-be 85-year-old.
She added Hayes has a “natural confidence,” while providing great leadership as a teacher.
“We are very, very lucky,” Theurekauf said of Hayes and her “high-calibre program.”
Those classes, which attract 60 or so participants each week – some from as far away as Merigomish – started as a six-week trial session – one targeted attracting six students per class.
For a couple of those early classes, Hayes said, there were only two students, but things improved and – the rest, as they say – is history.
“Word started to get around,” she added.
Hayes talked about the wonders water resistance training provides, including helping increase strength.
“It is amazing, really,” she said of the benefits.
Hayes noted people are reaching goals; some as simple as reaching items on top shelves, which they may not have been able to do for years.
Coupled with the physical results are the mental health and social values, with many long-time friendships formed.
Theuerkauf talked about the social network formed, through Hayes’ classes, with friendships created in a “safe and welcoming environment.”
A recent example of how those relationships are celebrated came a few weeks ago, when Hayes and her students gathered at Gabrieau’s Bistro in downtown Antigonish for a Saturday afternoon luncheon.
As another demonstration of her generosity and love for her students, Hayes annually hosts such a celebration.
At last year’s celebration, Cameron MacDonald noted, her students gifted Hayes with a special book, which included reflections of how she and her classes have touched countless lives.
“We are so grateful [for Zoe] – she is amazing,” Cameron MacDonald said.
Throughout the conversation, Hayes praised her students, while deflecting any admiration coming her way.
“I just love doing it,” she said.
With that, Hayes made her way to the pool deck – with Christmas tunes playing in the background – where she started yet another class.
More lives touched.