AQUA MAGIC 1: Opening Doors


Over the past two and a half months, I have seen a remarkable change in my transforming lifestyle — a lifestyle that has taken me from workaholism to floating through a severance period that will eventually lead me to retirement.  I want to share with you one aspect of that change — aquafit classes, sometimes referred to as water aerobics.


In a very short period of time, I have gone from never really enjoying aquafit classes but doing them because supposedly they would be good for me physically and socially, to actually really enjoying the classes because they have indeed proven to be good for me both physically and socially.


I first started with this gig in January 2018 after a long time friend invited me along to the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre pool for the nine a.m. aquafit class in the indoor pool.  


From my youth and throughout my lifetime, I can remember not feeling too enthusiastic about going swimming because the water in public swimming pools is generally cold, and being cold just has no appeal to me. I can also remember feeling worried about the security of my personal belongings and how awful it always was to walk on the change room floors and pool decks in bare feet.


For the first couple of months of going to indoor aquafit classes twice a week, recently, my previous discomforts or reservations stubbornly stayed with me; but, at some point, I opened my mind ever so briefly, and realized for every worry I had, there had been a proven way around it.


The Maple Ridge Leisure Centre has more than one pool; the one used for aquafit classes has a standard water temperature that is higher than the main pool and it higher than any other public swimming pool I had ever been in.  In fact, it is almost like bath water.


Security is a commonplace concern at the Leisure Centre and the best way around it is to bring only your essentials. Get changed in the changing room, but bring your belongings in one compact bag to the unused bleachers aligned with the pool. 


As for my concern about the grungy floors and pool deck, a simple three dollar pair of vinyl slip-ons do the trick.


With those complaints set aside, I began to relax and moved from going twice a week to three times. It even got to the point that it didn’t really matter to me if my best friend came along or not. The gathering of often as many as forty people, men and women, turned into something more than just a time for exercise. It became commonplace to chit-chat with the person next to you, while we continued to bounce around, stretch our arms and kick our legs, and try to coordinate leg and arm movements at the same time.


After the class, some of us would stay to do some lengths and eventually move over to the hot tub to continue our chatting, before going our separate ways.


All of that fun ended when the Leisure Centre had to close not only for the annual maintenance, but for a complete infrastructure renovation of the pool deck areas and a redesign of some of the pools. It felt like the sudden end of summer camp when you start off as a bunch of strangers, learn to have fun together and to learn things about each other, and then, before you know it, it all suddenly ends.


Thankfully the great staff at the Leisure Centre stepped to that plate, figuratively put up a YIELD sign, and diverted us to a new option — the same classes, the same schedule, the same instructors, but at a new location — a local community outdoor pool.


I could hear the hemming and hawing, and feel my own hesitation suggesting it could not possibly be the same. I sensed that not many people would participate in that alternative, but since the outdoor pool was a stone’s throw from my house, and since the heatwave helped to motivate me to do things to keep cool, I decided to check it out.


Class time would be at nine Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.


The first day, I crawled out of bed, got into my swimwear, and bagged my change of clothes and a towel into my homemade packsack. I got my red and white Tim Horton's bicycle out of the garage and off I went for the twelve minute ride. 


The initial insecurities sprang back to mind as I got closer and closer to my destination — Hammond Community Pool. I worked most of it out before arriving: my bicycle can be locked against the pool fence; my belongings can be placed on a chair on the pool deck; only the issue of the water temperature would remain a mystery.


As I arrive, I stare through the wire fencing, look around and see a lot of familiar faces. It was like a homecoming as we all greeted each other and introduced ourselves to people we recognized, but had never met. Some were already in the water and had a level of cheerfulness I had never seen in the other pool. 


“It’s like bath water,” they said.


Those five words put a spring in my step as I hurriedly set up my personal docking station for my belongings, uncovered my bathing suit and walked with my slip-ons to the stairs leading me into the water.


I slowly dipped in one bare foot and then the other.


“Oh Lord, this is just like bath water,’ I echoed and smiled from ear to ear, as I wandered to a spot where some of the regulars had placed themselves. I immediately introduced myself to Solveig (pronouned Solveigh), Rita and Renée, and a guy named John. My best friend, Jan, arrived soon thereafter.


The Monday class began right on time with a selection of fabulous rock and roll songs of the sixties. The instructor is enthusiastic, loves to sing while she works, and clearly loves her job.  The 30+ students all face in her direction and obediently follow her lead. We were all full of vim and vigour, and some of us joined in the more familiar lyrics or just made up our own. The forty five minutes of constant movement flew by, and I could hardly wait for Wednesday and then Friday.


It was at this point that I would refer to the morning experience as Aqua Magic. Over the next eight weeks, at each class, I set out to remember another name and to chat with another person. They were no longer just faces, but names I would remember both inside that pool and out.  That is Gary (with one r), beside him is Klamer, over there is Cherie who ride shares with Rita, who is next to Solveig along the back wall.  Rita, Klamer and I share an ethnic/cultural identity — we are all born in the Netherlands, and we enjoy greeting each other in our mother tongue. 


I am in front of Rita, beside Renée and slightly behind Laurie who is to the left of Marge and Loretta who often come together except when one or the other is vacationing somewhere. There was a smiling lady who always came to class wearing a big floppy hat over her naturally grey hair; I never did communicate directly with her other than a quick nod or hello. I wonder what her name is?


In the last couple of weeks, I met Ron and Garry with a double r.  They were two of a regular group of about eight men who didn’t know each other before this all started, but always placed themselves in the deep end, to the right of the instructor.  It was impressive to see them all pay attention and follow along.  The instructor even noticed them and their faces beamed when she congratulated them on their progress and enthusiasm.


Early on there was a very talkative guy named John. Of all the guys, he seemed to prefer engaging in conversation with a lady or two. The ladies he chose would politely listen and learn things about him, including his health challenges and family dynamics.  Then, one day there was no John and we never saw John again.  We all felt a sense of sadness hoping he was okay, but helpless in that we had no idea who he was, where he lived, or how to find out what happened to him. It reminded us that we should not take anything for granted and that everything and anything can end abruptly and without notice. I think most of us know this but we tend to not remember until it is too late.


At the outdoor pool, we all seemed to be a lot more talkative and social during classes. It is hard to figure out why that happened, but it definitely made me feel more energized and enthusiastic about the aquafit program. 


After day one in the outdoor pool, I no longer rolled out of bed, but sprang out and enthusiastically prepared for departure. I enjoyed it so much more than the indoor program. I guess time will tell if it was the program or the people that made this happen.


Now that the summer has ended and the outdoor pool is closed, our gang is once again feeling the end of summer camp. It was, and now it is no longer. Just like that — terminal. We are back to square one as we try to figure out how to keep up the aqua magic of morning exercises and of discovering interesting new people going forward. 


The Maple Ridge Leisure Centre is still under construction and will be for many months to come.  The alternatives for aquafit programs are not local and the external options are plentiful. We are on our own to figure that out.


Because of where people live, some plan to go to facilities to the east of our town and others will go west or south. I am happy to say that it sounds like my core group is planning to go west, so we will reunite next week in the water at the Hyde Creek pool in Port Coquitlam. Perhaps with our having to travel a fair distance for sixty minutes of exercising, some of us can include a coffee break visit or occasional brunch outing into our plans to make the long journey  west even more worthwhile.


As a recovering workaholic approaching official retirement soon, the aquafit program has definitely opened up my world to new experiences and new people. I am looking forward to more of the warm waters and magical gifts that will be accompanying this new lifestyle well into the future.