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Moving on from the pain

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago, Pat Murray regains mobility with aquafit classes, becomes a certified instructor

Swinging her arms in the air as she dances along the pool deck, Pat Murray makes aquafit class fun.

A few minutes later, she’s running on the spot, alternating her legs between high knees and heel kicks.

With every move she makes, the aquafit instructor shouts words of encouragement.

“You can do it. That’s it…You’re doing a great job,” says Murray to the students in her Wednesday 8:45 a.m. class at the Bell Alliant Centre in Charlottetown where everyone is grooving to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and Mary Wells’ “My Guy”.

Watching her on the pool deck, it’s hard to imagine that six years ago Murray was having trouble walking.

But today, there is no sign of her walker/wheelchair, just a metal chair, situated to her left, in case she needs it.

“Sometime my balance isn’t good. But, so far, so good today.”

The Stratford resident was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2013.

“To say I was brought to my knees is an understatement,” says Murray who, after being told to find ways to move tried everything from yoga to regular exercise without any success.

“I could never get them because my balance was off. I was also getting frustrated because I needed to move.”

Murray credits attending an aquafit class, taught by Gordon McNeilly, and the support she received from staff at the Bell Alliant Centre for helping her become mobile again.

“The benefit of aquafit is it takes pressure off your body. Being in the water enabled you to start moving. So, within three weeks I was able to squat down to get into the bottom cupboard to pull out a pot. I hadn’t done that for years.”

Murray,who started the classes three years ago, had some extra motivation.

“(My daughter) was getting married, and I wanted to lose 40 pounds.”

Her husband, Malcolm, attended the first session with her. “He said, ‘within the first 10 minutes it was like a light had come on.’ That’s because I realized I could do this.”

There were other surprises, as well.

“Within three weeks I didn’t care whether I lost the weight. My flexibility and mobility were returning, and I wasn’t dragging my left foot as much.”

Soon Murray became a regular at the swimming pool. One day when she turned up for class, she discovered there had been a miscommunication. McNeilly was at another event and the centre hadn’t made arrangements for an instructor. So, Murray volunteered to teach it.

“I got up on the deck and started doing it. It was a lot of fun.”

After class, people came up to her to say how much they enjoyed the class and her positive energy. Suddenly, she felt encouraged. So, after talking to Bell Alliant Centre staff, she arranged to take the training necessary to become a certified aquafit instructor.

“I love my work.”

McNeilly, who teaches noon hour aquafit classes at the centre, describes Murray as “a real inspiration.”

“Her story is one of positivity and determination. She has the ability to love everything and everybody around her. She’s truly one of the most outstanding people I’ve ever met. And it’s a blessing to have met her and have her in my life.”

Murray’s students are also inspired by her positive attitude.

“Pat is an awesome teacher. I could hardly walk and hardly breathe, but since I started coming to class, all those issues have disappeared and I’m off medication,” says Cecelia Coady of Riverdale.

Although I’m 80, I think I’m just 50. It made a difference in my life.”

Another regular agrees.

“Pat is very personable. I want to get up there and dance with her,” says Alice Whitty, adding the classes are helping the physiotherapy she’s doing for her hip. “I’m trying to get my mobility back and being in the water really helps.”

When asked about the positive impact she’s having on people’s lives, Murray says she’s simply sharing the information, encouragement and support she’s received from her “team”.

She also praises her husband, for supporting her career decision.

“If it hadn’t been for Malcolm, I’m absolutely positive I would not be doing the work I’m doing. And I thank him for that.”If you go

- When and where: Different days, different hours at Bell Alliant Centre, 560 University Ave., Charlottetown.

- For a full schedule, go to and for more information, call 902-569-4584 ext. 0.

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