In the Swim of Things
Imagine swimming 5 kilometers. Then imagine swimming 5 kilometers in a race. Now imagine swimming those 5 kilometers in open water, like Lake Erie. This is the kind of thing that Fairview Hospital rheumatologist, Julio Aponte, MD craves.
At age 67, Dr. Aponte is one of the last people you would expect to swim competitively. But he still defies the odds and practices at the Gemini Center in Farivew Park on Saturday mornings to prepare for open water and competitive swimming.
Dr. Aponte’s swimming story starts when he first moved to the United States in 1970. His first house had a pool so he started to swim. By expressing this interest to others, he was connected to a training group called United States Masters Swimming (USMS). Becoming a member of this organization, he currently swims in the 65-69 age group. This group met at the Westshore YMCA. After practicing for a while, Dr. Aponte attended a swim meet in the city of Orange. He had never competed before in his life. He was a deck entry at this meet, which means he entered at the meet as opposed to registering before hand. At this meet, he signed to compete in the 100 and 200 meter freestyle events. He swapped one of these events for the 500 meter freestyle in which he placed third among all the competitors. Now, he was hooked on competitive swimming.
After swimming for some time, someone suggested the he try open water swimming, swimming done in natural bodies of water.Dr. Aponte swims off of Columbia Park in Lake Erie. Dr. Aponte eventually created a club called Ohio Masters Lake Erie Swim Meet that competes in July and that strictly swims competitively in open water. He has also created a fund-raising competition for open water swimming to benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
Through his open water swimming and competitive swimming, Dr. Aponte has traveled all over the world. He said that the most beautiful pool that he has swum in was the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Complex in Sydney, Australia. He has also swum in two Olympic pools, one in Barcelona and the other in Montreal. Some places in which he still hopes to swim include the Great Barrier Reef, a swim from Alcatraz and off Cape Cod.
As a rheumatologist, Dr. Aponte often recommends water therapy for patients who are suffering from arthritis. He says that the buoyancy involved with water therapy gives it an advantage over other types of therapy. He has also created groups and classes for people with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions, during many of which he helps his patients swim. He also taught classes for therapeutic swimming. In fact, Dr. Aponte believes that his knowledge of medicine and the human body has made him a better swimmer.
Dr. Aponte recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Fairview Hospital, where he is currently on staff.
Even though he has a busy schedule, Dr. Aponte keeps a positive outlook on life and especially swimming. He says that throughout his swimming career, he has met many people who swim and are disabled. Dr. Aponte says, “I look at these people and think, Why have I to complain about?”
Joe Ezersky is an Eagle Scout and is in the 8th grade at Lewis F. Mayer Middle School in Fairview Park.