NEW YORK, New York, June 9. FINA Certificate of Merit Recipient Dr. Jane Katz is currently using her knowledge of the healing powers of swimming to help war veterans assimilate back into civilian life.
Katz, who was a member of the 1964 U.S. Synchronized Swimming Team and helped get the sport recognized as an Olympic event, has had a lifelong love affair with the water. She continued past competitive synchronized swimming into Masters competition as well.
She currently teaches at John Jay College in New York, and has taught swimming to NYC’s police and firefighters. Recently, however, she transitioned some of the lessons she learned from working with first responders to those returning from military service when she created WETs for Vets.
The program is available at John Jay College, where Katz helps provide veterans with holistic mind, body and spiritual wellness grounded in formal swim instruction and aquatic exercise. The classes also provide water safety and other fitness options.
We wanted to get a deeper look into what Katz has created with her program, and had a quick email conversation with her.
1. What was the catalyst to you deciding to start WETs for VETS? Was there a single encounter with a veteran, or was it a slow burn?
I had wanted to do something like this for quite a while. My dad was a Merchant Marine and my late husband was a physician in the military, so I wanted to do something for vets. John Jay actually has more than 500 vets enrolled as students, so there is a real need for a program like this. It took some time to get it up and running but it was well worth the effort. These people are heroes and they deserve to be given every opportunity possible to succeed in civilian life. Water Exercise Techniques (WETs) for Vets is a great support group.
2. Please explain some of the basic concepts you use in WETs to help work with veterans in the water.
Water is the great equalizer. People of all skills and body types can participate and benefit. I try to make the sessions fun and take a holistic approach of mind and body. We work with barbells, kickboards, pull-buoys, flippers, fins and all sorts of conventional water exercise equipment.
3. What are some of the key things you have found about swimming that help veterans as part of the program?
I have found that many of the vets, regardless of age, have joint pain and as a result they stopped working out. Water exercise is great for them because it is very low stress on the joints, and they have rediscovered the joy of working out both to stay in shape physically, as well as to relieve stress. Water is always great for healing.
4. What are some of the specific issues that veterans deal with that the general public just doesn’t have an understanding about?
I don’t think the public has enough of an appreciation for what these vets go through when they return to civilian life. It’s a very difficult adjustment, mostly from a psychological standpoint as many suffer from various degrees of post traumatic stress. The WETs for Vets program helps them in several ways. The workouts help relieve stress, and there’s a real camaraderie among the students because they share a common bond that those of us who have not been in combat cannot really understand.
5. Where do you see the program going from here?
I see it continuing at John Jay and eventually expanding throughout the CUNY system, and eventually to other schools in the New York area and beyond.
Swimming World also had the chance to hear a testimonial from one of Katz’s students, Marc MacNaughton. MacNaughton served as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps, and explained how he met Katz. He also explains just how impactful her WETs for Vets program has proven to be in his life.
Where Dr. Jane Katz really made a difference with me achieving success at John Jay and in my final year at John Jay College is through a special program she designed. In my meeting her and casual talks through our swim class this past Fall she learned that I was a veteran and served in the United States Marine Corps.
With that information Dr. Katz told me about a program she designed called W.E.T.s For Vets (Water Exercise Techniques). She designed this new program for John Jay College students and their families who have served our country.
The program is based on the need of healing for persons injured by the nature of their occupation. This new program she implemented helped to create a holistic mind, body, and spiritual wellness to our veteran population and I was one that took full advantage of it. She designed the program with the concept that wounds of war are not always physical in nature.
She explored a different approach and created a program providing both a positive physical and emotional experience with beneficial effects. With her expertise and awareness of the unique healing properties of water, especially buoyancy, she allowed a holistic approach to wellness to be achieved with the W.E.T.S. for Vets program here at John Jay College.
As for me, Dr. Katz was able to recognize through our conversations that I was struggling at times and it was kind of a miracle in disguise she designed this program for our Vets here at John Jay College. It’s almost like a blessing in disguise that I was able to take her swimming class this fall and learn about what she was doing for our Vets here.
As I and others can attest getting in the pool makes coming home from war easier for our military service members, veterans, and their families. Even if returning service members do not have a physical or mental health injury, most, families or veterans will struggle with coming back into their families or a society to a routine very different from war. The level of struggle will vary between families and individuals, but the swimming and Water Exercise Techniques can be universally applied to all individual veterans, and military families for ensuing success in integration, employment, and education.
The W.E.T.’s For Vets may take on additional importance for those returning with physical or mental injuries that require adaptions. The unique program that Dr. Katz has designed has given us increased confidence, family and social connections, and to some learning how to live with a new physical adaption. It has improved mental health for some of our veterans, and a few have shared with me even recovery from addiction. This is all attributed to the time spent in the pool by the veterans and military families with Dr. Katz and her holistic approach to wellness. Unfortunately, sometimes our veterans are forgotten.
However not here at John Jay College. I was going through some rough spots personally with my family this past fall and Dr. Katz did not let me slip by the wayside. She stood by me, and encouraged me to put one foot in front of the other and helped me get through my rough patches.
For more information on Dr. Katz, and her WETS for Vets program, visit her Facebook page