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NEWS | Feb. 15, 2022

Fort Hood SRU Aquatics Program Gives Sgt. 1st Class Cheryl Mancill a New Lease on Life

By D.P. Taylor Army

The phrase "off the deep end" typically describes someone who is without hope. But for Sgt. 1st Class Cheryl Mancill, stepping into the deep end of the pool at the Fort Hood Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Texas was a moment of pure magic.

It all started when Mancill came to the SRU in March of 2021 after a motorcycle accident broke both of her legs from the hips down in July 2020. She had to use a wheelchair or a walker to get around, and she had limited choices for activities.

She decided to try aquatics, but it didn't go well at first. She went to see a physical therapist who specializes in aquatics, but the therapist saw a lot of other individuals and the treatment always involved getting into shallow water. That put too much weight on Mancill's legs, and she hated it.

So her nurse case manager suggested she try the Fort Hood SRU's aquatics program. She did, but as soon as she set foot in the pool she began to wonder about the decision, because once again she was at the shallow end. That's when Corina Fleeman, who works in physical therapy services at the SRU, stepped in to help Mancill out.

"She said, 'wait until you get to the drop-off end, the deep end,'" Mancill said. "And I got to the drop off where you can't feel the bottom, and then she said to just keep walking."

That changed everything for Mancill.

"It was like I was walking on the moon," she said. "There was no impact. I could move in ways in the water that I couldn't move otherwise. It was a night and day difference. My range of motion in the water is so much better in the water than out of the water. It was like gravity had no bearing."

When you're recovering from a traumatic injury, the last thing you want is a one-size-fits-all program. And that's why the SRU staff makes sure the aquatics program is fine-tuned for each individual, Fleeman said.

"Even those who are afraid of pain — because that's really what keeps them from doing things — those people are definitely helped by having access to a program that takes most of the pain away," Fleeman said. "The weightlessness is almost as good as being in space. You're floating away and you get the water resistance, but it's something that's easily adjusted by repositioning the body."

The program uses many types of specialized equipment, like belts that help participants float, hand buoys to provide resistance to work upper body strength or ankle weights to help ground people with neurological challenges and who don't get solid nerve feedback from the bottom of the pool.

"It's just a nice first way of understanding that you are not useless and your body is not completely against you," Fleeman said.

Mancill can't say enough about Fleeman and the SRU staff.

"They are amazing," she said. "We all have something that needs [fixing], so we're all treated accordingly [at the SRU]. It's not just, 'hey, you're just another Soldier.' And I love it. If I don't know what I need, they try to figure it out."

Ever since Mancill joined the aquatics program, her confidence in herself has soared, and there's no limit to what she'll try today. She's gone from being able to swim just one lap in the pool to two laps. She's since gotten into yoga. And she's even launched her own artwork business and has sold commissioned paintings — abstract works of art that are explosions of color and movement that have captured the eye of many people already.

If it weren't for the aquatics program and the SRU staff, Mancill thinks life would be a lot different for her.

"I'd still be in my wheelchair," she said. "It has helped a lot not just with the pool, but with getting back into yoga and getting confident in all sorts of things."

Today, Mancill is preparing for retired life and focusing more on her artwork. She's currently undergoing the Medical Evaluation Board process and expects to officially retire at some point this year. After that, who knows what life will bring — but she's confident it will involve plenty of art.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at