Charles Lott is an all-around incredible human being, but he won't brag to you about his engineering degrees or how he meticulously grows roses at his home in Hendersonville, TN. He'll tell you how proud he is of his 11 grandchildren and how the Sumner County Family YMCA has the best swimming facilities of any Y he's visited.
Both of his grandchildren and the Sumner Y are big parts of Charles' life. In fact, Charles and his wife, Ann, began coming to the Y around 15 years ago so that their grandchildren would have a place to swim in the summer. Initially, Charles would play with the kids and then swim a few laps. But as his grandchildren grew older, he found himself continuing to come swim on his own.
Loss leads to a new love
Charles' love of swimming was founded out of a need for aerobic exercise in a very transitive time of his life. He grew up in Louisiana, and, during the summer between his junior and senior year of college, he took a job working at the Exxon refinery in Baton Rouge. In his second week of working there, Charles got pinned between the bumpers of two cars. "I was lucky to have lived because I lost a lot of blood," he says. As a result of that accident, his right leg was amputated.
While the technology of prostheses has changed significantly in the last 60 years, Charles was very limited in the late 1950s as to what he could do with a prosthetic leg. Running was seemingly out of the question, so he decided to take up swimming to incorporate aerobic exercise into his routine. He and Ann joined a local swimming club near their home in Hendersonville when they were first married, and Charles would visit at night after work or swim in hotel pools when he traveled.
What he can do with his prosthetic leg has broadened significantly, Charles points out. His current prosthesis was designed by Kevin Carroll of Hanger Clinic—the mind behind the dolphin's prosthesis in the film Dolphin Tale. "Kevin is amazing," Charles says. "It's the best prosthesis I've worn in 35 years."
Miles of goals
As Charles will tell you, he's always been a goal-setter. "I found I achieve more if I have something to strive for," he says.
He started playing a game with his grandkids, having them guess how many miles he'd swim in a given year. At the end of the year, he'd give a prize to whichever grandchild was closest. "When I first started, I would swim for just a few laps," he says. "And then I got up to 10 laps. And for some reason, I decided I'd swim a mile." That year, he swam about 111 miles.
The next year, Charles challenged himself further, tackling 150 miles. "I had this crazy idea that I was going to swim a mile every day the year I turned 80." He did a mile each day through the month of May, swimming 153 miles in just under 6 months. "The thing I learned is that your body slows down. Pretty soon, it was taking me much longer to complete that mile."
But Charles didn't stop swimming, even after deciding to give himself a break from his mile-a-day goal. On his 80th birthday, he came to the Sumner Y pool and swam his age in laps without stopping.
On his 82nd birthday, he split up his laps, swimming 41 laps in the morning and coming back in the afternoon to complete the other 41 laps. When he was getting close to finishing his second set of laps, he came to the end of the pool to find the aquatics staff waiting with a "Happy Birthday" banner and balloons—complete with a celebratory song. "It made me feel special and cared for," he says. "It was just a fun, fun experience."
Part of the family
Beyond his swimming successes, Charles is a bright, friendly face at his local Y, always talking to members and answering questions about swimming and overcoming his disability. He's the first to proclaim that the facilities at the Sumner Y are the best-equipped for those with disabilities. And, if he thinks that something could be improved—even if it's not something that affects him personally—he'll advocate for others.
"I started as Aquatics Director in 2004 and I very clearly remember Mr. Lott coming to me and introducing himself because he wanted to be sure that I knew who he was," says Marlene Hilligoss, Senior Program Director. "He is an inspiration to us all in what he does to take care of himself. He stays in that pool. He doesn't stop swimming."
Because Charles and Ann have been members for over a decade now, they're well-known and loved in their Y community. "We have a lot of members that have been here since we opened, and they come and they go," Marlene says. "But Mr. Lott has been with us and has watched us grow and change and develop. Because he has been here for so long, he has helped our family grow. Having people like that as part of our family at the Y is what makes us so good."
Learn more about the swimming facilities and aquatics programs at the Sumner County Family YMCA at ymcamidtn.org/sumner-county/swimming.