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Exercising her health options

Eleanor Tucker learned the value of exercise as a teenage polio patient. Now 69, she continues to outdistance disability through working out.

By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003


Eleanor Tucker of Redington Shores knows a thing or two about resilience. Even though she uses a wheelchair, a walker and a portable oxygen tank (24 hours a day), she also has a need to exercise.

At 69, Tucker refuses to let health problems force her to become bedridden; therefore, she maintains a rigid workout program five days a week.

As a child growing up in Cincinnati, Tucker enjoyed the usual childhood activities, but swimming was one of her favorite sports. She would later learn just how important swimming would be in her life.

When she was 15, she contracted polio. She spent three months in the hospital and, while her recovery seemed to be rapid, she had to use crutches until she was almost 17.

Swimming became more than a pastime for her at that point. It became part of her exercise and recovery program.

"The polio left me with weak abdominal and leg muscles, but I led a fairly normal life from there," Tucker said. "I met Carlos, fell in love, and we were married when I was 23. My daughter Linda was born when I was 24, and Susan followed two years later. I now have two grandchildren also."

Although Tucker had a health reprieve long enough to become a mother, she later faced a number of health problems. Some were life-threatening, some just painfully inconvenient.

Some of the problems have included diabetes, hip and knee replacement, sarcoidosis and scleroderma.

"The sarcoidosis causes my lungs to lose their ability to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, so I have to carry portable oxygen with me at all times," she said. "The scleroderma is basically a hardening of cell tissues. However, I haven't lost any cells in the past two years."

Tucker and her husband moved to Pinellas County 15 years ago, and nine years ago she was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome.

Primarily because of the post-polio syndrome, she needs either a wheelchair or a walker to get around. Because of the lung disease, she has to have oxygen 24 hours daily.

But nothing keeps her from exercising.

Tucker exercises in a pool for 30 minutes three days a week and on weight-resistant machines for 45 minutes two days a week.

"I am able to exercise, when others can't," she said. "It's hard work, but it is positive activity and I am grateful for that. Everything is to gain strength in my arms, legs and abdomen. My oxygen tank has a 20-foot tube, so I can bob around in the water and still have it with me the whole time. I probably look funny, but I still plan to exercise."

In the pool, she moves back and forth, near the edge, exercising her arms and legs with the resistance and support of the water.

On the exercise floor, she uses several machines, all within a few feet of each other in a circle. Included are a cycling machine to help her legs and others to provide weight-lifting resistence to strengthen her arms and abdomen.

Tucker has another reason for working out so zealously.

"The last time I was in the hospital, I almost died," she said. "I could hardly swallow and I needed a machine to help me breathe. I don't want to allow my body to ever get that weak again. Maybe I can also inspire some people who have given up hope. Believe me, you feel better just knowing you are fighting back."

- If you know of someone in your community or neighbor who would make a good profile candidate for our Faces column, please send information to Terry Jones, c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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