Back when aerobics was young and Jane Fonda made movies instead of exercise videos, a program called SPLASH began at Howard Community College.
Now, 15 years later, Senior People Letting Aquatics Strengthen Health is still going strong. Hundreds of participants have signed up for the two- and three-times-a-week pool exercise sessions.
"It's a prevention kind of a program," said Suzie Tornatore, program coordinator. "It keeps up flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, it keeps the joints from getting restricted. It works. Some people have been in the program for 10 years."
Pat Mentzer, 57, of Columbia, has been a SPLASH member for four years. A polio victim, she espouses its therapeutic benefits.
"It's far better for me to swim than to walk," said Ms. Mentzer.
But SPLASH's three instructors say they, too, benefit from the classes.
"I found that the students have a sense of humor, are alive, bright and intelligent," said Barbara Frederick, an instructor since 1985. "They have given me such a tremendous viewpoint of what a senior citizen can be. They have taught me that you can keep on going and find new challenges and stimulations whatever your age."
"Arms over your head," commanded Bob Leek, an instructor leading a class one recent Thursday morning. Eighteen people obediently stretched their arms into the air. As the warm-up phase of the class began, three more instructors stood at pool side watching. They marveled at the newest addition to the class -- an 88-year-old woman who had no problem keeping up with her classmates.
Meanwhile an instructor gave the youngest class member, a 33-year-old with a disc problem, special exercises for his back. Although SPLASH members are mostly seniors, younger people referred by doctors also may enroll.
"Many people have different problems," said Mrs. Tornatore. "If people can't follow the routine, we will try to substitute exercises that they are able to do."
After 10 minutes, the class turns to aerobics. Students jogged in the water or held onto the edge of the pool, kicking their feet -- with no stress on their joints -- as their heart rates increased. After 10 minutes, they checked their pulses while instructors recorded heart rates. The step is repeated again at the end of class.
The class concluded with the 10-minute cool-down part of the program, a series of exercises to stretch limbs and move joints.
Large charts posted nearby showed the number of laps swum by SPLASH members during the final 30 minutes of class. Every 72 lengths is a mile. Students who rack up 50 miles earn a patch.
"For some people, it has taken years to get that first patch," said Ms. Frederick. "We keep track of their progress and transfer that information to the next calendar of the following year. In many cases, it takes two or three years to get a patch."
In June, 22 people earned patches. But no one has come close to the record of 16 accumulated by Helen Nowakowski, a 77-year-old class member who has participated for more than 10 years and swum 800 miles.
During the last 30 minutes of the class, some of the students also learn to swim.
Classes begin Nov. 9 and continue through late January.
Registration deadline: Nov. 6.
*Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.
*Monday and Wednesday at 9, 10, 11 a.m.
*Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. 1 and 2 p.m.
*Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m.
Cost: $38 for twice-weekly classes; $55 for three times a week.