How One Philadelphia Woman Swam Her Way to Good Health

Patricia Imms lost over 100 pounds in a year. She's determined to keep going.

Patricia Imms in her beloved pool at the Kroc Center

Patricia Imms all but slept in her bathing suit on the night before November 1, 2010. She woke up at 4 a.m., grabbed the makeshift Trader Joe’s gym bag she packed, threw a dress on over her bathing suit, and made her way to the pool at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in North Philadelphia. She was determined to be the first person to get in the pool at the Kroc Center’s official grand opening. Not only was she first in line, Imms leapt into her new life of fitness in the most appropriate way: with a cannonball.

At the time, 56-year-old Imms weighed close to 400 pounds and was having a lot of trouble breathing due to asthma and her weight.

“I literally felt like I was going to die,” Imms says. She decided that after years of failed weight-loss attempts, it was finally time to start taking things a little more seriously.

“I could write a PhD dissertation on how to eat right, how to exercise,” Imms says. “There was nothing that I hadn’t thought about or read about, but I couldn’t make myself do it.” Every time she tried to lose weight, something would come up, or she would get disheartened and eat those feelings away.

What if I ate towards something?, she thought to herself. One thing Imms had always dreamed of doing was ocean kayaking at her family’s shore house; at her weight, though, she thought it would be impossible. In June of 2010, she figured she would focus on goals like getting back in the ocean kayak, canoeing or biking to keep her motivated while dieting. She also began swimming in the pool in the retirement community where her mother lives during the summers. At first she could hardly complete one lap—and the pool was very small.

Imms discovered the Kroc Center one afternoon in October of 2010 when she saw a billboard at the intersection of Hunting Park and Wissahickon Avenue. Imms’s mother had moved home so she was trying to come up with a way to fit swimming into her work schedule. The billboard grabbed her attention with a picture of the prettiest swimming pool that Imms had ever seen. She took down the address and made a quick U-turn in the middle of the busy street so she could get to the center. Imms signed up for a membership.

“What was different about the Kroc than any other place I’ve ever been was the mission statement and the incredible commitment to the people,” Imms says. The center—and ones like it all over the country—was created with a $1.8 billion donation from the estate of Joan and Ray Kroc to create a super-community center in an under-served neighborhood. Now Imms goes to the Kroc Center about five days a week and alternates between swimming, spinning classes and strength training. This year, she’s going to participate in two triathlons.

The Kroc Center is a perfect fit for Imms because it’s situated halfway between her home in the East Oak Lane neighborhood and her job at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety in University City, where she works as a clinical nurse. Imms packs her gym bag each night and her alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. every morning so she can get a workout in before her workday.

“One of the things that really works the best for me is that I don’t ask myself how I feel about it,” she says, explaining that if she thought about whether or not she really wanted to leave the comfort of her warm bed to hop in a cold pool on all of those early mornings, she’d probably never make it to the gym—who would?

Imms says it was a miracle to see how fast her body was ready to get back into shape when she began exercising again. Sure, she may have to pop the occasional Motrin, but other than that her muscles seem to have few complaints.

Then there’s the physical transformation: In less than two years, Imms has lost over 130 pounds—and plans to keep going.

“It’s sort of like a very great testament to how much our bodies just want to be healthy and for us to be well,” she says. Since her weight loss, Imms has gone line dancing in high heels, can easily swim a mile at a time, and of course, goes ocean kayaking.

She draws an analogy between her body and a house: “I moved out of my favorite house that I ever lived in,” Imms says. “I’ve lived in other perfectly lovely places, and now I’m back in my favorite house again. It needs work because I left it alone for too long.”

Imms plans to continue this work; since the day she did that cannonball, she says she’s not once thought of giving up on getting in shape.

The Salvation Army Kroc Center of Philadelphia, 4200 Wissahickon Avenue, Philadelphia