Memory of YMCA supporter inspires drive for Howard pool lift


Constance Martin grew up fearing the water, but decided to battle that fear by devoting the final 20 years of her life to volunteering at the Howard County YMCA swimming program.

But for 15 of those years, she fought an even bigger battle.

Mrs. Martin had ovarian cancer, and went through a series of hospitalizations and surgery while still finding the time to chaperon swim meets and participate in YMCA committees.

Determined not to let Mrs. Martin's memory pass by unnoticed with her death in May, friends from the weekly swim group she was enrolled in at the YMCA wanted to give something back.

They have decided to raise money for a pool lift in her name.

"I knew her for 15 years and she was always very much aware of people with impairments," said Ruth Masters, 67, an Ellicott City resident who proposed the idea. "I just know she would be so happy to have something like a lift at the YMCA for people who have problems getting into the pool.

"I just felt something like this would keep her memory alive, not that we'll ever forget her," said Ms. Masters, a member of the Aquasize exercise group that is spearheading the fund-raising.

Mrs. Martin, who died at 51, was born in Washington and raised in Arlington and Falls Church and supported the YMCA vigorously. She watched her family grow up in various swim programs, said her son Francis Martin.

"She loved working with people and would never miss a swim meet," said Mr. Martin, 26, a former member of the YMCA's swim team.

"A lot of people never knew she was ill because she never let on about it and never let anything stop her.

"I know she would have been tickled pink about the lift," he said.

The only nearby YMCA that owns a lift is in Catonsville, said aquatic swim director Craig Johnson.

And not only will the lift serve to remind people of Mrs. Martin's dedicated work, it will also help several other people, he said.

"I've had people come in, look at the pool and say 'There's absolutely no way,' " Mr. Johnson said. "I've had to turn people away because they couldn't get in the pool.

"We have a ladder, but it still doesn't make it accessible for some people," he said. "A lift would be really useful for people who really want to participate but can't."

Ms. Masters agreed.

"I've seen people in wheelchairs that come in and they've got to be put in and lifted out each time," she said. "It's so undignified.

"Swimming is one of the best exercises people with impairments can do," Ms. Masters said. "But some people don't join because they're discouraged about not being able to get up or down on the ladder.

Working with the YMCA, the Aquasize group has raised about $700 toward the pool lift, which looks like a chair on a pole, Mr. Johnson said. Their goal is to raise $2,800.

"I'd love to install it at the end of the summer," he said. "I hope we can raise enough money by then because this lift would be for everybody. Connie would have wanted it that way."

Donations can be sent to the Connie Martin Fund at the Howard County YMCA, 4331 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City, 21043.

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