If you ask any of the morning regulars at Kerasotes if they know Erik Welch or Kevin McDermott, they may not know their names but they are very familiar with what they do at the Kerasotes YMCA. You see, Erik and Kevin have been friends for over eighteen years and share a love for swimming that inspires anyone who knows their dedication to friendship and the pool.
About six years ago, Erik suffered a traumatic brain injury which damaged his balance and left him unable to walk on his own. After the injury, he spent a year and a half in a rehabilitation facility in Omaha, Nebraska. His treatment involved active therapeutic recreation including aqua therapy. In Omaha, Eric, Kevin and his mother, Catherine O’Connor, discovered that Erik could regain mobility in the pool. About that time, the Kerasotes facility opened and Kevin was one of the first customers to the new branch. He proposed that Erik could continue his rehabilitation in Springfield as the therapy pool at Kerasotes would be perfect for him. Soon after, Erik was back home.
Because of the brain injury, Erik has limited use of his legs and one arm. Each day he enters the Kerasotes branch in a wheelchair and goes straight to the therapy pool where Kevin gently lifts him from his chair. He then walks supporting Erik’s arms on his shoulders while backing into the pool. Once they are submerged into the water, Kevin places a snorkel on Erik and Erik gets right to work. He swims laps while Kevin “spots” him making sure he is safe. When they first started this routine, they would meet a few days a week and Erik could only make it about 50 feet. Kevin Jarvis, a Kerasotes lifeguard, suggested they use a snorkel to make breathing easier and now they are up to a half mile every day. The new workout takes about an hour to complete.
Kevin says the pool has made a tremendous difference in Erik’s health both physically and emotionally. He has stopped taking blood thinners, reduced his seizure medication, and has become more mobile because of his daily exercising. In addition, Erik is super positive and loves coming to the Kerasotes branch where it “feels like family.”
It is no secret what this friendship means to them both. When you ask Kevin about Erik and his progress, tears start to well in his eyes. Kevin said, “I have a real problem keeping my emotions in check while talking about Erik. The YMCA has meant a great deal to us.” In return, Erik expresses his appreciation of Kevin. He says, “Kevin is a pretty cool guy. I just want to thank him for swimming with me every morning.” Kevin is truly grateful for his friendship with Erik and that the YMCA provides the warm and inviting environment where Erik can participate in the therapy that has been such an integral part of his rehabilitation.
In addition to swimming, Erik participates in the YMCA’s chair yoga and is a patient at Memorial SportsCare. In the warmer months, he swims at the Nelson Center pool. He also spends his free time drawing and volunteering for many different organizations. He is a volunteer for the Old State Capitol Historic Site and is a Shrine Clown; ironically his clown name is “Speedo.”
Not only is Kevin a great friend to Erik, but Kevin has been a great friend to the YMCA. Kevin and his high school friend, John Drew, have a charity tennis tournament called The McDrew which donates proceeds to various charities each year. In 2016, The McDrew selected the Springfield YMCA as the recipient because of the diverse range of opportunities it provides to the Springfield community, including Erik. The YMCA was overwhelmed by their generosity. Kevin said, “The YMCA is one of the greatest resources that Springfield has and this pool has given so much to me and Erik.”
It is an honor and a privilege to have Kevin and Erik in our facility every day. Their friendship has carried them through life’s challenges. They are a perfect example of resilience, loyalty, commitment, compassion, dedication and hard work.