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Origins of the Ranch, Part XXVI

History of Rancho La PuertaWater’s role in everyday health, fun and exercise at The Ranch: Part 2

The following musings are from an unpublished history manuscript by co-founder Deborah Szekely, circa 1987. These “early days” were challenging! Once again, we remind the reader that Rancho La Puerta was founded in 1940 in a remote but extraordinarily beautiful area of the mountains about 45 miles southeast of San Diego. “Modernity” was near, but in some ways quite distant.

[To read more history, see Origins of the Ranch: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII, Part XIII, Part XIV, Part XV, Part XVI, Part XVII, Part XVIII, Part XIX, Part XX, Part XXI, Part XXII,  Part XXIII, Part XXIV, and Part XXV]

Using simple, clean, bracing fresh water, my husband, Edmond Szekely, invented a number of hydrotherapy exercises and devices, several of which he patented.

We had no electricity other than that from our own generating plant, but by means of a gravity-flow system we were able to put in an entire hydrotherapy department on a little slope. It was as picturesque as it was popular, and was even photographed by Life magazine.

Much of the Professor’s knowledge of hydrotherapy came from his study of pioneer Father Sebastian Kneipp’s (1821-1897) techniques. Kneipp’s herbal wrap, or a variation thereof, was eventually en vogue at most U.S. spas but few know the story of this Bavarian priest who ran a Spartan spa unlike the sybaritic European hot springs resorts of his time.

Several royal personages trusted the good Father’s approach over that of the luxe spas, with their ornate hotels and casinos: most notably the Pope, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The Archduke scarcely could walk when he entered Father Kneipp’s care, but soon was able to keep an appointment with destiny at Sarajevo, where his assassination ignited the First World War.

When we instituted the Ranch’s first truly rigorous and varied daily exercise regimen, we again consulted “My Water Cure,” the American edition of Father Kneipp’s manual. How could we relieve the aches caused by lactic-acid buildup in exercisers’ muscles? It required something more than our temezcal (steam room). And yet we could not afford to build our planned stone-edged swimming pool. The answer? Our variation of the hot Kneipp-style herbal wrap.

We found our herbal wrap a marvelous way to “detox”—although that was not the term used back then. The cloth that we wrapped the guests in definitely drew out toxins. Here’s proof: if a guest was a smoker (many were in those days), the linens literally stank of tobacco after treatment—to the degree that the smokers’ linens had to be boiled separately, and we stored them apart from the others even after sterilization. Of equal or greater importance was the way herbal wraps worked wonders on arthritis, sore and pulled muscles, rotator cuff strains, and more. Our guests were able to achieve fitness through exercise, without the aftermath of soreness.

When I started the Golden Door I quickly discovered that our 12 guest rooms would have to be reduced to 11. Guests, so unaccustomed to exercise, were suddenly doing five-plus hours a day of vigorous activity, and in the morning they were virtually crawling out of beds. I quickly closed one room and turned it into our herbal wrap treatment area.

Rancho La Puerta today has four swimming pools and multiple therapy pools. We recommend the Kneipp-style herbal wrap to exercisers still, plus time in a hot, churning therapy pool. Once again, it all adds up to achieving fitness without pain.

My husband was fascinated by all therapeutic possibilities of water massage. He developed an idea for a special lounge chair that would sit in a swimming pool while jets of water pulsed out of the chair frame, giving the sitter a pleasant, beneficial total massage. He was, in fact, working out the details of this invention when a pump manufacturer called on us. Our caller wished to demonstrate a machine he had invented to help his son, a polio victim. We at once placed an order with Mr. Jacuzzi. Soon we had four Jacuzzis, and Mr. and Mrs. Jacuzzi even spent a week with us. Both later became Golden Door fans. The Ranch has never been without his water hydrotherapy systems—or ones like them—ever since.

Next month: “Doctor Right Leg” and “Doctor Left.”

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