The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

RubyAnne Joy Pierce

Overcomes Obstacles to Gain Amazing Level of Fitness

Since starting swimming lessons at the YMCA-La Crosse Branch this past summer, 5-year-old RubyAnne Joy Pierce has grown stronger than her parents could have imagined. Diagnosed at birth with severe pulmonary hypertension and Down syndrome, RubyAnne wears little braces on her small feet to correct her wide gait.


Children with Down syndrome tend to have low muscle tone, slow metabolism, and heart problems. "Now any one of those would be a hurdle for most people and RubyAnne has all three," says her mother, Rachael Pierce. "But because of swimming lessons, a new world of fitness and conditioning has opened up for her that can help her keep fit and trim through adolescence and beyond. 


"Not only has she learned skills she will use her whole life, but she is also able to take part in an enjoyable pastime with her peers. We are just so thankful for the opportunity we have had through the Y, and the amazing teaching of Sue Bulk for RubyAnne's progress."


During her first set of lessons, RubyAnne became much more comfortable in the water. "I was surprised on the first day that she was the only one in the class," Rachael says. "I found out no one else signed up for that class. I was so happy RubyAnne would have her own teacher - one-on-one."


Her confidence and strength continued to grow when she started another session, this time with Sue. "Since meeting Sue, RubyAnne has really blossomed as a swimmer," Rachael says. "RubyAnne now has endurance, strength, and a level of fitness that she has never had before. She is comfortable in the water, and has gone from hanging on her teacher's neck to paddling around the pool with only a single float on her back! It is amazing to watch!"


As a Y swimming instructor for 25 years, Sue also is amazed how fast RubyAnne has made such big strides in such a short time. "She is a delight," Sue says. "She makes me look good." Sue admires RubyAnne's willingness "to get down to business." She can be encouraged to try just about anything in the water.


A couple of weeks before summer session ended, Sue told Rachael how "strong" RubyAnne was getting. Sue may have been surprised when Rachael was emotional about that statement. "I told Sue, 'You don't understand. That is not an adjective we use to describe RubyAnne. She has never been 'strong,''' Rachael says. "Earlier this spring, our goal was to get her to walk around the block without stopping or wanting to sit down on the sidewalk. Just a couple of weeks ago, she ran a half-mile course near our house. Now, she didn't run continually, but she didn't want to give up!"


In turn, RubyAnne has positively impacted Sue's life. "I look forward every week to swimming lessons with her; it's the favorite part of my week," Sue says. Like RubyAnne's middle name, Joy, Sue describes RubyAnne as simply "joyous."


"I owe it all to her swim lessons at the Y," Rachael says. "I have encouraged other families of children with Down syndrome to check into swim lessons for their children as well, because it has changed RubyAnne's life."


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2012