Sunday, March 21, 2004

Blind swimmer disdainful of 'limits'

By Angela T. Koenig
Enquirer contributor

WESTWOOD - The next time you find yourself lacking the motivation to exercise, consider Katherine "Kitty" Hevener of Price Hill.

Katherine "Kitty" Hevener pets her seeing-eye dog after taking a swim.
(Meggan Booker photo)
At least three times a week, Hevener, 46, who has been blind since birth, treks nearly a half mile from her home to the bus stop. After 20 minutes or so on the bus, she traverses about three more blocks on foot to her destination: the Mercy HealthPlex in Westwood.

"It's pretty much an hour-long proposition just to get there," said Hevener, a disability issues consultant who moved back to Cincinnati from California in 2003.

Once at the facility, Hevener's guide dog of three years, a yellow Labrador retriever, is tethered to a poolside bench and waits patiently - shaking off the occasional splash to the face - as Hevener swims laps or participates in organized aquatics programs for 30-40 minutes..

Then it's back to the bus.

Hevener knows she is limited, but considers herself limitless.

"I've learned to dive off a diving board, I tried water skiing; these were all things I remember thinking, 'Yeah, dream on," and then it happened."

Not overnight, though. The first step was a tiny one. About 20 years ago, she took part in an aquatics class at Xavier University led by former Cincinnati Bengal Scott Perry.

"I was one of those people who failed P.E. classes and hated exercise with a passion. I credit Scott with giving me the gift of health."

Ever since, she finds herself out of sorts when something - like the weather - keeps her from the pool: "I find that my stress level increases and I get frustrated more easily."

"Her outlook and her will just amaze me," said Pam Butler, executive director and aquatics instructor at the HealthPlex Western Hills.

There was a learning curve at first, Butler said, but it was more on the staff's part than Hevener's. For example, Butler said, she once instructed Kitty's class to run in the water like a football player. Hevener replied that she's never seen a football player run.

"Kitty makes all of us more aware," Butler said.

The same goes for lifeguard Steve Sampson, who interacts with Kitty on a regular basis: "I've learned that losing your sight doesn't mean you can't have an enjoyable life."

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