Swim Classes Help Brianna Reed Make a 180° Turn in Her Life

Jennersville YMCA helps young woman combat Rheumatoid Arthritis

It was the best of both worlds for Brianna Reed when she got a job at the Jennersville YMCA in January 2015.

The then 19-year-old was working with children in the preschool, and when she wasn’t working, you could frequently find her working out, either using the elliptical machine, running or walking. Reed would hit four miles per day on average, an amount that helped keep her in good shape.

It wasn’t long after that, however, that she found herself struggling to climb a set of stairs or unable to walk across a room. She had extreme pain in her joints and her strength was sapped, and it got to the point that trying to take a shower or attempting to make a meal caused her intense pain. She lost 20 pounds from her 119-pound frame and was so weak that she couldn’t lift children at work or even open jars.

At 20 years old, Reed was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue and joints. Reed’s joints were swollen and inflamed, which caused her pain and weight loss. She had to go on medication to reduce the inflammation and Baker’s cysts behind her knees, unsure of the next step to take.

Finding a New Haven

Identifying a unique way to get back on a healthy track and put the weight back on wasn’t easy at first, but her rheumatologist’s recommendation was important, and ended up changing her life.

“I had to find some sort of exercise to build up muscle mass and that was easy on my muscles and joints,” Reed said. “My rheumatologist recommended swimming, so I started at an arthritis class at the Jennersville YMCA, which was a lot of stretching, toning and loosening of my muscles. Then, I was able to go from that class to something more difficult, and I started putting weight back on. It was definitely encouraging every time I saw the scale move.”

Reed found herself able to do more in the classes and walk longer distances. She could use the steps in her home, no longer leaving her confined to the first floor because of her inability to walk. In essence, she became herself again, and her daily life saw some drastic improvements, including cutting back on a previously weekly Humira shot to once every two weeks.

A Life-Changing Decision

The pool at the Jennersville YMCA has helped reshape Reed’s outlook on her health, both physically and mentally. Now, she’s a regular in the pool. She works out three days a week and often double-dips on classes, which ends up giving her four or five workouts per week. Deep Water is her favorite, but she’s also a big fan of the arthritis class and aerobics. Despite that, Reed might not be in the position she’s in if she hadn’t met Missy Van Scoyk, the group exercise and swim instructor at the Jennersville YMCA.

Van Scoyk had heard through the grapevine about Reed’s physical challenges, and she thought that pushing Reed out of her comfort zone could go a long way. When the two met, Van Scoyk laid out a challenge that she thought would help push Reed to new heights.

“When I first met Brianna, she was in a very weakened state physically, and she didn’t have much of a sense of community,” Jennersville YMCA aquatics teacher Missy Van Scoyk said. “I told her, ‘it has come to my notice that you might benefit from taking one of my classes. I’m putting a challenge out there to you: I’m challenging you to become a stronger person. Water works miracles, and you’d be very surprised if you dedicate yourself for four to six weeks. If you don’t see improvement, go ahead and leave. Because of that, she decided to give the class a chance and she got in the water."

“She saw vast improvement, so much so that her doctor told her to keep doing what she was doing,” Van Scoyk added. “Her movement became a lot more fluid. She started sleeping better and developed a better way to live. She was very isolated and just a quiet person at first, but she really started coming out of her shell both in and out of class. I had people mention to me how her demeanor had changed. The ladies in my class love her, and I’m always so impressed with what she’s able to do. The class has given her immense health benefits, enabled her to step out of her comfort zone and given her a sense of community.”

It’s not always perfect for Reed. If she gets sick and catches a virus, she’ll start dropping weight again, but it’s much more manageable than it once was. That being said, she’s fallen in love with the water, and with good reason.

“Missy is my favorite aquatic teacher,” Reed said. “She’s really come along side of me and helped me regain my health. She has pushed me to do my very best and has helped grow my self-confidence. I now also know all of the sets and routines and I can help other classmates learn them.”

It’s a fitting transformation from an unsure student to a teacher.