OAKDALE -- Jack Keef owes his ability to walk on land to the time he spends walking in water.
Keef, a double amputee, is among a group of people who swear by aquatic therapy. In various ways, they've experienced the benefits and want to share what they've learned with the rest of the community.
So participants in a class called Water Exercise Together are asking the city to help realize their prayers for a nonprofit indoor therapy pool.
The Oakdale Community Aquatic Foundation has conceptual designs and donors. But it doesn't have a location. Foundation members took their plans, inspirational stories and a request for a plot of land in the northeast corner of Dorada Park to the City Council this week.
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Keef, 60, was among those who strolled down the aisle to the podium in City Hall to tell how the class has changed his life. Until he began listing his medical history, only his classmates knew he wasn't born with the legs he was walking on.
Five years after Keef hesitatingly began walking, jumping and mimicking skiing in a heated pool upon teacher Cheryl Bridges's command, he finds himself trying to convince council members that a city so connected to the rough rodeo lifestyle needs a therapeutic pool.
When Keef first tried aquatic therapy, he quickly realized he didn't have enough weight on the lower portion of his body to keep him swimming upright.
"I did a face plant," he said.
He added weights to the portions of his femurs left after he lost one leg to diabetes in 2001 and the other in 2002. Later, he had an old pair of prosthetics stripped down to the metal so he could wear them in the pool.
After one year of aquatic therapy, the freedom Keef felt moving through the water began translating to land. Now, he leaves the wheelchair, walker and canes at home and is able to walk.
If the city agrees to allow the foundation to build the center in Dorada Park near the city's outdoor pool, it likely would sell or rent the land to the foundation for fair market value. Gifting the land would make the foundation susceptible to a host of regulations, including wage laws, City Attorney Tom Hallinan said.
Council members posed more questions of city staff and center supporters than there were answers at Monday night's meeting. The issue will return to the council when staff has more information.
Foundation members envision a pool in a building with large windows. Athletes, seniors and anyone with injuries or ailments who could benefit from the weightlessness and resistance of water would pay $5 per class, according to the foundation's plan. Swimmers from outside of Oakdale migh pay more. If Oak Valley Hospital sent people for classes, it would reimburse the group $20 per patient.
Eight people spoke in favor of the project and several more sat quietly in support of it. While most of them were senior citizens, foundation co-president Pat Graham, 83, laid to rest any assumptions that the pool would be solely for them.
"This is not a senior project, nor a medical project," she said.
Foundation members said the center's design, construction and startup would cost about $890,000, which would be privately funded.
In addition to protecting the pool, the building would house bathrooms, lockers, an office and a reception area, said foundation co-president Jim Nixon, 67. Plans also call for a 20-by- 40-foot pool with a depth of 3½ to 5½ feet.
"But it's all very conceptual right now," he said.
While foundation members have been working toward the project for 2½ years, swimmers have been taking aquatic therapy classes at Oakdale's Best Western-Rama Inn for five years, said Sarah Tanis, 73. The group hosts five therapy classes a week in the hotel's indoor pool.
"When I added the fifth class, it filled up in 15 minutes," teacher Bridges said.
Like a proud mother, Bridges pointed and nodded toward people as they entered the pool Thursday, whispering details of how far they'd come, how some couldn't walk when she first met them and now they're an inspiration.
"There's so much more to this than exercise," she said. "We're a family."
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2382.