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COMMENTARY BY RAMON PRESSON: Life is going swimmingly, thank you very much

Bill Creswell, 56, swims laps every day. Twice a day. A session in the early morning and a session in the afternoon. That’s pretty impressive, but there’s more. He has maintained this routine since 1982. OK, that’s really impressive. But here’s the kicker: Bill has a paralyzed arm and a prosthetic leg.

That’s right, Bill Creswell can outswim you and me with one arm tied behind his back (well, it might as well be) while he flutter kicks with one leg. Bill hits the water around 6 a.m. at the Franklin Family YMCA and swims for 30 minutes before proceeding to the exercise room where he does the Stairmaster and the treadmill, hits the weights and concludes with sit-ups.  Then in the early afternoon Bill repeats the routine at Prairie Life Fitness Center. That is where I first met Bill. 

One afternoon I saw a man whose car was parked in a handicapped space pulling a manikin’s leg out of the trunk and putting it in his gym bag. Carrying around manikin body parts is a bit strange and creepy if you ask me. It was not until I encountered Bill in the pool some weeks later that I understood that was HIS leg--his detachable artificial limb. It was also then I noticed that Bill’s left arm hung limply by his side.

Soon I discovered that Bill’s ability to adjust and overcome his physical limitations in order to swim and exercise was only half the story of this remarkable man. Every time I observed Bill at Prairie Life, whether in solitude or while interacting with people, he was always upbeat and positive, energetic and enthusiastic. The consistency of his positive attitude and engaging spirit as much as his physical discipline and perseverance intrigued me. 

Why would someone with such physical handicaps and hardships drag themselves to the gym every day when every day they have every reason not to? How does a man stay so positive when life has dealt him a set of cards most of us would resent and reject? How does a person embrace each day with joy and love for others, instead of stiff-arming one’s life and the people in it with despair, bitterness, or envy?

Bill was a 26-year-old expert machinist when the accident happened; a motorcycle accident on Hwy 96, of which he remembers little. What he does remember is waking up a few days later in Vanderbilt Hospital and discovering that his left leg had been amputated below the knee.  Bill had feeling in his left arm but no movement, a condition that would ultimately be confirmed as permanent.

Bill had always loved swimming. Most of us learn to swim mainly to prevent our drowning. In 1982, after surgeries and months of physical therapy, it was Bill’s swimming regimen that enabled his spirit to stay afloat. 

For Bill, the pool and the gym became not only places of exercise but of friendship. Bill Creswell walking into Prairie Life or the YMCA is like Norm walking into the Cheer’s bar. Most of the staff and so many members know Bill and are glad to see him. “Treat people like you want to be treated,” is Bill’s motto. It’s not original but a good motto to live by, and Bill does. It offers a clue why he volunteers in helping people with their income taxes and with assisting adults in completing their GED. A surprisingly good tennis player, Bill excels in serving on and off the court.

Recently Bill climbed an extension ladder and re-roofed his house. Neighbors and friends told him he was crazy. But Bill Creswell’s example reminds us that sometimes it is the doing of extraordinary things that actually keeps us sane.

Author and therapist, Dr. Ramon Presson, is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, Tenn.

Posted on: 3/12/2013


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