SNAP the Pain Away
Aaron Krish

Since 1993, the Special Needs Aquatic Program has offered aquatic exercise for adults with disabilities and swimming lessons for young children in the Health Enhancement Center’s therapeutic pool.

Under the direction of Rory Suomi, founder of SNAP and Associate Dean of Health, Exercise Science and Athletics, the program reflects exercises and training that are seen in physical therapy facilities around the nation, following a curriculum set by the Arthritis Program.

“There is no other place for people to get this kind of exercise,” Suomi said. “It’s the type of program people would join post-physical therapy to continue working on different areas of their body because it’s basically the same exercises, only in 90-degree water.”

Exercises done in the therapeutic pool work on arms, hands, hips and knees. Everything is done in warm water.

Suomi explained that the athletic training and physical education students are able to help out and take something away from the program.

“The athletic training students often observe the different exercises in the program as part of one of their introduction classes for their degree, and while it is valuable to them, it would be valuable for the university to get a physical therapy program,” Suomi said.

Currently, SNAP has two different programs. One is for adults ages 50 and above. The other is for young children, usually toddlers or younger. After some years of inactivity, the children’s program is starting again with physical education students working with the children.

“For the young children in SNAP, we want to give them a starting experience in the water. We teach the basics of water safety, and parents are involved in the process,” Suomi said.

The adult program offers two different classes. The first includes basic aquatic exercises for groups or individuals which deal with the physical and social needs of older adults. In the second class, participants with arthritis are “led through a series of designed aquatic exercises” to alleviate pain throughout the body.

“We have four class sessions and probably get about 60 people attending,” Suomi said. “People come back and are happy to participate in our program. We’ve had members for as long as the program has existed, which is now 20 years old.”

One of the 20-year members is Pat Trebatoski, whose experience in SNAP is highlighted in the College of Professional Studies Annual Report booklet. Participating in SNAP has helped alleviate pain in her joints and muscles.

“Exercises on land, even walking, were getting difficult for me, so I wanted to try exercising in the water, which has less stress on your joints and muscles,” Trebatoski said.

Since its start, SNAP has attracted more than 2,400 adults. Some participants travel from as far as Marshfield, Plainfield, Wausau and Waupaca. The program has even won awards at state and national levels, including the Outstanding Arthritis Health Professional Development Award.

“It’s definitely a program that is under-known throughout the area and the university,” Suomi said. “We have a great program with great instructors and a nurse. Everyone interacts, and we have a small community based on this experience.”

SNAP may be a series of classes, but, as Suomi stated, it is also a community. Trebatoski has had near-perfect attendance in the 20 years she has been involved.

“The class not only restores my physical energy, but I have developed some healthy friendships with other participants who also have various chronic pain conditions,” Trebatoski said. “It’s a support group that I don’t like to miss twice a week.”