Here at the Oxygen Concentrator Store by American Medical, there’s nothing that brings us more joy than hearing and seeing the freedom an oxygen concentrator can bring our customers. Kelly Ragan, writer for The Greeley Tribune, highlights an oxygen user taking back their freedom in her article Greeley Woman Teaches Water Aerobics to Classes That Become Like Family.
Diana Bleignier thought she'd grow up to be an elementary school teacher. She had a gift for interacting with people and instruction, so it seemed like a natural fit. But she didn't end up in a classroom. She wound up in a pool.
Bleignier, 63, of Greeley, teaches cardio classes, weights and, yes, water aerobics.
Bleignier's voice rises above the chatter and laughter Wednesday at the senior splash class at the Greeley Family FunPlex. She tells her class it's time for jumping jacks. Water laps at the edge of the pool, spilling over as the Splash Class transitions to underwater straight leg kicks.
Athletics were part of growing up for Bleignier. Her family regularly played games and she was always moving. She carried that love with her. She launched her career when she turned 30. She waited until her youngest son was older, she said, and then everything just fell into place. She got her first job teaching classes at the Conditioning Spa and she knew that's what she was meant to do.
Some folks have attended Bleignier's class for more than a decade. They know each other. They want to hear about each other's lives and families. They're like family themselves.
"My seniors tell me they like me because I don't yell at them," Bleignier said. "They say otherwise they would drown me."
Harvey Stewaid, 83, started water aerobics so he could keep walking. The water was easier on his joints. He went to Bleignier's classes at the Conditioning Spa before it closed. He wanted to keep doing Bleignier's classes, so he signed up at the FunPlex. He's now in his 11th year.
For others, such as Rose Perez, Wednesday was the first time she attended a class. She stumbled onto it when she came to the pool with plans to walk around the river. She asked what it was all about, and they invited her to join them. She was surprised by the instant camaraderie.
"I'll come back," Perez said. "Everyone's been so nice and friendly."
Bleignier cracked jokes as she led the class, a huge smile plastered across her face. She's known for her upbeat, energetic personality. She joked her husband has a hard time keeping up with her.
She's part of the senior ministry at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, too. She spends much of her time bringing people together for lunch outings and the like. She loves helping to foster connections between people. The recreational classes she teaches are an extension of that, she said. They're a way for her to show others the love of God outside the church walls.
"That's who I am," Bleignier said. "But it's the people who keep me going. The members of my class are a motivation for me."
She remembers one woman in her class, back when she worked at the Conditioning Spa, who was 96 years old. The woman was almost exactly the same age as her father would have been. Bleignier hopes when she's 96 she's still able to do water aerobics.
Nancy Meek has been coming to the classes for years. Even after she was diagnosed with a lung disease and had to start using oxygen, she kept swimming. She set her oxygen near the side of the pool and uncoiled the oxygen tube. It trailed behind her, floating in the water.
"My doctor wants me to get exercise," Meek said. "Water is really forgiving."
Younger people can join her classes and would get a good work out, too. It seems, she said, that they think water aerobics are only for old people.
"I don't know what they think us senior folks are like," Bleignier said. "I think they're intimidated by us."
For Bleignier, it comes down to having a good time. She knows she wasn't meant for a desk job.
"It's that love of teaching," Bleignier said. "Being older myself, this is still something I can do. I don't' see what I do as a drag."
This content was initially written by Kelly Ragan of the The Greeley Tribune. Kelly writes features and covers health for The Greeley Tribune, and has no affiliations with AMSR. She can be contacted at (970) 392-4424 or by email at [email protected].