Giuseppe Purich bounded up to the podium at Astoria Pool on Aug. 8 to receive his award for Outstanding Swimmer and Male Senior Citizen, during the venue’s annual celebration.
Last November, Purich, 84, suffered from a stroke that left the right side of his face paralyzed. However, the avid swimmer, who joined Astoria Pool’s Senior Splash program in 2006, wouldn’t let this obstacle get in his way.
“He is in awesome health,” Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. said. “He could probably play volleyball with me.”
The stroke also affects Purich’s balance and muscle strength. He says swimming has helped him manage back and leg pain, and regain mobility and balance.
Purich participates in the 31-year-old program’s water exercise class and “seniors only” lap swim for about an hour each session. During July and August, Senior Splash offers water aerobics, water ballet, instructional swimming and other classes — 184 seniors signed up this year. On average about 65 individuals participate.
Purich, who constantly chews gum to keep his jaw moving, mostly swims freestyle with the aid of flippers, but at times tries out the butterfly, said Blanca Saravia, a seniors program leader with the Department of Parks and Recreation. And although he rarely participates in the water ballet, with specialized choreography by Saravia, he occasionally joins the “learn to swim class,” she added. Purich is an advanced swimmer, but the back-to-basics class allows him to focus on lower-body strength.
“He consistently comes. He only has missed twice this year,” Saravia said.
A veteran of the Italian marines, Purich moved to New York in the 1970s from Venice, Italy. He worked in construction for 10 years and for the Transit Authority for 18 years.
The swimming program, organized by the Department of Parks and Recreation, Community Board 1 and Catholic Charities, has given seniors and the disabled a time and place to exercise and socialize since 1981.
“It gives a sense of community,” participant Mary Tompkins said.
Seniors have full rein over a third of the Olympic-sized pool from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. three days a week. The middle of the pool is open to the public and the far end is for individuals with disabilities, which allows Parks and Recreation employees to give them specialized attention.
“I would like it every day,” senior participant Maryann Farrell said.
When: Through Aug. 24, Mon., Wed. and Fri. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: 21 Hoyt Ave. North, Astoria
Tickets: Free, (718) 626-8620