AQUA MAGIC 2: Free to Fly


Since writing the Aqua Magic story (Part One) last Summer, I have continued the aquafit commitment at a community indoor pool a good fifteen minute drive from home.  I guess you could consider it an adventure away from home as it is in another community and it does take up a good half day on my schedule three mornings a week. 


A committed group of my neighbourhood locals are making the short trek out to Port Coquitlam Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to enjoy the aqua experience at a great place called Hyde Creek Recreation Centre.


Immediately upon arrival through the automatic double doors, guests are greeted with a warm welcome and attentive service. Right away you get the feeling that you are in a clean, inviting, appreciative and pleasant place —  a place with a lot of energy and a whole lot of options. They have a huge variety of aqua programs, but also floor programs like pickle ball, badminton, basketball, volleyball, racquet courts, martial arts, dance, billiards, child care and so much more. They even have an intriguing little cafe with patio style, comfortable seating inside the pool area.


Currently my only interest is the aquafit program.  Keeping in mind that the gang of about twenty who have plunged in from Maple Ridge, was joining in with a larger group of established local Port Coquitam regulars, we were not quite sure how that would go over.  You see as is true in other factions of the real world, in real life, some people are quite territorial and even possessive. It’s the Not In My Backyard Syndrome. They also carry a mantra of “this is my pool”, “this is my spot”, “stop talking with that person; she is my pool friend, not yours”.  It is a form of subtle adult bullying or innate misery I suppose.  One woman was seen splashing another and telling her to stop talking! I am sure Sigmund Freud would have an explanation as would Dr. Spock and Doctor Phil. That adult disciplining adult behavior is hard to take for some, but my demeanour is strong enough to not give others that power to break me down.  


Those people do, however, get my cerebral attention and that makes my mind wonder how they got to be that way. I may never really know the answers, but anything is possible. Human behaviour has always intrigued me, even in the political life i recently left behind.


Ok, gotta get back to the story.


Our initial presence of twenty visitors dwindled to fifteen over time,  and that is pretty darn good. The extra driving distance could be a factor or maybe it is the larger group experience they didn’t like so much. By and large, the majority of our forty or more Port Coquitlam hosts are extremely welcoming and that makes it very easy for outsiders like us to keep up the effort to show up with vim and vigour, and realize the many benefits of communal exercising and, of course, communal socializing.


Every morning we all arrive at various times before and close to nine thirty. The routine is to have your pre-purchased card scanned, coloured wristband affixed and then your name needs to go on to the sign-in sheet. The purpose of the sign-in sheet is perplexing to me as nobody ever does the roll-call in the actual pool, and some participants don’t actually sign in! Please don’t tell the administration because that could just lead to another layer of bureaucracy, requiring more staff which means more payroll money and, subsequently, higher entrance fees. Nobody wants that so let’s stick to the honour system, which unfortunately requires us to allow for the occasional cheater.


Let’s get back to the story.


Some participants are always there before me because they love to sit in the Lazy River pool to chit chat before the 9:30 start. I join them for five minutes or so, and it is my opportunity to enjoy the friendship and company of interesting people like Klamer, Ron, Gary, Marlene, Rita, Solveig, Dawna,  Bruce, Ginette, Manon, and sometimes Rick, in water that is a few degrees higher than the regular pool.  Rita uses the time to help remove the lane ropes from the main pool and prepare it for our class. She was once an elementary teacher so she is well trained in tasks like that!


John, the guy we met in Hammond outdoor pool last summer — the guy who came regularly and then suddenly disappeared — even showed up again. Turns out he had fallen from a ladder, gashed his head, needed to be hospitalized and then wasn’t allowed to do a whole lot until the gash had healed. Seeing him was a surprise to all of us as our imaginations had been all over the map as to what happened to John!  Now we know. He has come back a few times since, always with a lot to say.


We all do indeed learn a bit about each other and about interesting issues, when we start off in the River.  I joined Klamer and Gary one morning and found out that Gary has an amazing machine that converts old photos from slides into crisp and clear actual photos that can be viewed on our computer or devices; it even sounds like the quality of those reproductions is even better than the original slide.  Well spoken verbal short stories catch and hold my attention.


Klamer is an incredible landscape artist based in Pitt Meadows. He knows a lot about forward and back images, dark and light, shadows, and soft and hard colours depending on the time of day. He also told me an interesting story about dog pooping protocol in The Netherlands — owners have to train their dogs to do their pooping in a specially designed gutter along side the walkway.  He proudly told me about his two bilingual daughters, educated in French Immersion schools in Pitt Meadows, being on Canada’s National Water Polo team based in Montreal. Bilingual western Canadians and elite athletes: very impressive and intriguing.


During those pre-class times in the Lazy River, I have spread the word about the Telus Loyalty program — something that can only be asked for by the customer, resulting in paying something like $12 a month for land line service. It is both astounding and unbelievable, but true! Some have followed up and exercised that opportunity to save a lot of money.


Another interesting money saving tidbit is related to Canada Post. If you buy stamps for international mail in an amount greater than five dollars, and mail those items upon purchase, you don’t pay taxes. If the clerk isn’t aware of this policy, ask them to check their employees’ manual. The money saved could go to your next specialty drink!


A few of us engage in many interesting conversations during our special times before and after the scheduled class — too many to mention, but let’s end with this one that goes a little over the top, or does it?


An “out of the box” thinking person, the type that would have been institutionalized in the 1940s and 50s, shared her theory on what happens to our skin when we sit in the steam room for more than ten minutes.  Her preliminary findings are based on personal experience.  Two weeks previous she had shaven her legs the night before attending the aquafit classes — classes that are always followed by ten minutes in the Lazy River pool and then ten minutes in the Steam Room.  This particular morning she felt her legs and noticed there were no hairs, just nice soft, smooth skin.


This revelation got her thinking about a theory that could well be plausible. The heat from the steam room softened the skin of her freshly shaven legs,  much like what happens to a piece of chocolate in the heat, and when the body returned to normal temperature, the skin had settled into the follicles of leg hairs, essentially plugging them. There was no more hair growth, just soft, smooth skin — something like the soft, smooth skin of the heads of bald men.


She remembers that everyone thought Einstein was weird or deemed to be loonie because of his obscure theory on relativity.  Now she finds herself in a bit of a conundrum because even though we don’t seem to institutionalize anyone anymore, speaking out about something so bizarre could ostracize her in much the same way.


Well, as a few of us politely listened and waded in that Lazy River feeling somewhat stunned and perplexed with this oddball theory, this confident lady declared that she would indeed pursue this further in the days and weeks ahead.  She plans to contact the scientific research department at the University of British Columbia, ask for lab time and permission to use their experimental rats. If, after shaving the hairs off the backs of those rats and putting them into a steam room for ten minutes, over a period of two weeks, results in bald rats, then her theory would be proven. 


Her findings could indeed revolutionize shaving. Nobody would need to shave anymore. This actually could be huge!


I have to say that of all the stories I have heard in my lifetime, this one tops them all.  As far fetched as it might be, I do wish her well in her pursuit. I may well surprise her with some upfront financing.


Whoops, sorry, gotta get back to the story.


Other aquafit enthusiasts arrive minutes before nine thirty and don’t spend anytime in the River. They slowly descend into the somewhat chilly waters of the main pool, chit chat with the others, briefly, and watch the lengths swim section transform, under the keen supervision of Rita, into a big wide open pool area to accommodate the nearly sixty (sometimes seventy) people who make up the class. 


Everyone goes to “their spot” and settles in, looking forward to jumping jacks, water treading, knee to chest jumps, side, forward and back shuffles jiggling our rear cheeks, butt kicks, ab work, and scissor jumps — all to the sounds of an interesting repertoire of the instructor’s favourite music. 


I, like a butterfly bouncing from flower to flower, try to say hello or good morning to each person I know by name, as I enter the pool at the shallow end and walk to my spot near the number 7 placard affixed to the front wall at the five foot mark.


Marge, Loretta and Joy hang out in the shallower end of the pool. Jan, Cherie, Rita and Klamer are usually on my right, although I have noticed that Klamer has drifted to the back section lately; Bill, Rick, Ron, Bruce, Ginette, Manon, Garry, Chris, Marlene, Lori and Linda are disbursed behind me, and Solveig, another Linda, Maggie and Dawna are usually a bit to my left and near the front. Kim from Korea is always in the centre of the larger group. She loves to smile. and always expresses a sincerely enthusiastic welcome.


I want to share one other personal observation: I think Lori moved to the back centre of the pool because she discovered during our time at the outdoor Hammond pool last summer, I tended to talk too much and she likes to fully concentrate on being a model aquafitter!  She definitely is a model aquafitter!  I fully understand so I just wave at her once during the session because I know we will connect later in the Lazy River for a five minute meaningful chat, while the water current moves us forward for a few laps of more interesting revelations.


Meanwhile, back at the main pool.


I can’t help but engage in conversation while kicking my legs up and down, forward and back, and making my arms move around at the same time as my hips pretend to be like Elvis or more like Chubby Checker, no pun intended. 


Some may wonder why all the talking? I know the instructor Chantal wonders that too since she sort of expressed her angst one day!. Well, for me,  it does get my mind off the regiment of exercising and, overall, it does enrich the whole experience of being out and among a bunch of like-minded strangers — all of whom have an intriguing story to share. Once they loosen up and realize what they have to say is actually interesting, their frowns turn to smiles and they go home with an extra feeling of personal satisfaction: a good workout and the added bonus of sharing bits and pieces of the story that defines them as people.


Okay maybe I do chat a bit more than I should.  I have been reprimanded for doing so and felt startled and moderately perplexed. I am thinking that maybe I should bring in a box of earplugs to help ease the frustration some seem to be experiencing. The thing is, talking (and singing along with the tunes) helps me forget that I am working my limbs pretty darn hard. I sense that not everyone is as keen to be social during class, so I try to minimize what might seem to be a disruption or a frustration to my comrades — although I do feel the long suppressed rebel in me is encouraging me more and more every single day to keep it up! 


As a free woman, no longer working and living in a reclusive, secretive  cocoon, I am an escapee and no longer compelled to be upstanding in all circumstances. I have been set free to fly and I am finding it very liberating to act out once again! As the lyrics to a Queen song says: I am finally out of that prison cell and borrowing from Nancy Sinatra, my boots are made for walking and that’s just what I will do! — speaking metaphorically that life is meant to be adventurous, including a bit of risk and stretching boundaries, and later in this story you will find out more about that angle!


Okay let’s get back on track.


After class is over, a sub-group gathers in the Lazy River. This gives us a chance to catch up with other incredibly interesting, warm and friendly people like Lori and Linda, sometimes some of the morning river people, and my bestie, Jan.  


The men don’t join in, but some of them do go to the jacuzzi, sauna and/or Steam Room, before showering, changing and heading home. Sadly, in some cases, I won’t see any of them again until the next class. I would, one day, like to figure out that conundrum because our time together has created and nurtured a family-like feeling.  Like a butterfly, we only live once and as John Lennon would say: give it a chance!


Ok, let’s get back into the River.


So in the River, I learn things like Lori and Linda are long time friends and they enjoy going on cruises together. Lori’s husband doesn’t like cruising and Linda is a widow, so they are the perfect combo for short getaways. 


From talking with them, I am now believing that I could enjoy a cruising experience and, the more I think about it, I think my single friend Jan and I could easily and comfortably join them for a vacation experience at sea. The ship is big enough for us to spend time together doing things we all enjoy, and to spend time away from each other to do other things on our own.  Reuniting for dinner every day to share stories and enjoy wine, with or without salty potato chips, is starting to sound quite intriguing.  AHOY! Let it be, let it be!


After about fifteen minutes in that lovely Lazy River, we eventually disburse and some of us enjoy the whirlpool, others go for the sauna and then there is Bill who doesn’t go into the River but loves the Steam Room.  I enjoy talking with him as we both  used to live in Burnaby; in fact, he lived on my street about four blocks west of my house, and he too went to Moscrop Junior High and Burnaby Central Senior Secondary  He is older than me so I did not know him in our younger days, but it is always fun to throw out names and memories with people like Bill. I might bring my high school annual with me to the pool one day and then ask him to join me for coffee in the café to reminisce!


One Monday morning something unusual happened. A lot of people were missing.   Lori and Linda were on the cruise ship heading to Los Angeles. We sensed that we would miss them but they would probably not miss us, since the activities on a cruise ship are aplenty, WIFI is spotty and costly, and thinking about us would not likely be on their ‘to do’ list!


But, to our surprise on that particular Monday, Klamar, Gary, Garry, Rick, Bruce, Ginette,, Manon, Marlene and Bill were also missing. Those who noticed felt a slight feeling of abandonment and we wondered how on earth could so many of our gang be absent on the same day. Someone would have to ask them on Wednesday.  


I did tell the others that I would be away until the following Monday, so they wouldn’t  be wondering about me and, with so much time passing, I may never know why so many stayed away two weeks previous.


We have developed such a richness in human interaction in this Aqua Magic experience and the à propos words of wisdom from some of the more inspirational tunes highlight that feeling. Sweet Caroline … life’s never been so good!  Or,  Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality, Open your eyes. Look up to the skies and see … we are so blessed!


For me, the tunes are not just musical beats. I think the instructors spend a great deal of time sorting through their vast catalogue of options, and pick tunes with significant hint-filled messages to impact our human psyche. Often the tunes subtly project useful messages meant to guide us, inspire and motivate us, and others mirror our inner most thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others, while our bodies get bounced around and our cardio rates keep mounting.


But, again I digress. Let’s get back to the pool for a second.


Things were all going swimmingly for a few weeks until suddenly one day we heard the blowing of whistles coming from a lifeguard. Other lifeguards and staff came running from every area of the facilities and b-lined to the jacuzzi pool.  One of our comrades who left the main pool early to enjoy the warmth of the hotter water, had fainted. 


All of us were ordered out of the pool and patrons in the other pools had to do the same. I looked around and saw a lot of adults, as well as parents with toddlers and mothers with infants, all of whom were at the pool for their weekly aqua-class.


Everyone was staring and stretching their necks to see who had fainted, and what was happening. The intrigue must have helped us not notice our shivering skins.


Eventually most people gave up waiting and disbursed to the changing rooms. A few of us stayed behind to observe how things were handled by the lifeguards, firefighters and paramedics.  It all seemed to take a long time and there seemed to be a bit of uncertainty about how to proceed in terms of whether a visit to the hospital was necessary or not. 


During that decision making time, some acquaintances of the patient volunteered to open her locker, take out her stuff and drive her car home, leaving her in the hands of the paramedics who were doing blood and pulse testing. Eventually the decision was made that a trip to the hospital was not necessary as it was just a case of low blood sugar levels which is normal for diabetics. They managed to stabilize her and everything checked out fine.


As I sat in the warm pool talking with friends, I looked off across the kiddies’ pool and to the side of the lengths pool. There sat the poor lady on a bench, all alone, outside the office of the aquatic supervisor.  No car; no cell phone; no identification and no clothes. Her husband had been contacted to come pick her up.


Once Jan and I had showered and changed into our street clothes, we walked to the exit lobby and saw the poor woman walking out to the arms of her husband, wearing nothing but her swimsuit and bare feet.


I felt like I was back in my professional development and lesson planning sessions at university. What went right? What went wrong? What can we learn from all of this?


At the forefront of my mind was the knowledge of knowing someone else in the ensemble of aquafitters, is also a diabetic. She is very aware and very astute, but sometimes it could be possible that an incident happens. First and foremost, she needs to know her stuff is safe; she will not be abandoned; and, she need not worry about anything. What could possibly be more important during an emergency than to set my own day’s plan aside, and follow through with giving someone in crisis peace of mind.


As soon as I got home that day, I emailed my cohort to let her know a back-up plan was in place should anything happen to her while at the pool. As long as her home address was on her car insurance papers, I would get her belongings and stuff home safely, leaving her with her very important diabetic hardware and her insulin pump, and a change of clothes. I would also make calls for her if she was not able, and all the pieces would fall into place, leaving her with nothing to think about except herself.


This somewhat scary emergency incident also reminded me of how precious life is and how quick it can be to lose someone. Once they are gone, they are gone. This brought me to thinking about unfinished business and, as it relates to this story, the plan to sit down with Bill to go through the high school year book. It did indeed happen just last week and it was fun to reminisce about those days and about those people.  I let him take the book home with him to share with his family and friends. It seemed to mean a lot to him to be able to do so, and I was happy to give him that rare opportunity.


Shortly after Halloween, the aquafit instructor named Chantal, selected a song repertoire of tunes by recently deceased artists like Gord Downey, Michael Jackson, Prince and Tom Petty. I have to confess I am not familiar with artists and their tunes, but Bill pointed this out one day in the Steam Room.  Her decision to use that arrangement was in a sense a tribute to Remembrance Day. She definitely has her finger on the pulse.


I had a tune ringing in my head that day — one that caught my immediate attention while in the pool and elicited a very spontaneous personal reaction.  The lyrics were “I’m free”, and when I instantly realized how perfect that lyric was at this point in my life. My arms rose high above the water and my body did a full pirouette as I shouted in tune with the music: “I’m FREE!”!  It felt like the end of a therapy session and I would no longer need to mourn the losses of this past year. I’d escaped into reality!


What am I talking about? Well let me try to set the scene. My political party unexpectedly lost the reigns of government, causing me and my many friends and colleagues to lose our jobs. Many moved away to other offers in order to keep their heads above water and survive the egocentric plunge. For long timers like me who didn’t need or want to work again, the transition from living like a full-pledged and loyal workaholic for three decades in a private cocoon consumed with secrecy and strategy, to re-entering the world of everyday people, was like learning to walk again after a tragic accident. Here I am, fourteen months later, feeling fully liberated, energized and actually grasping the meaning of I AM FREE.


I had been living and working in a bubble for 26 years, knowingly and willingly, feeling privileged and honoured. Some would say it was a secret society that only the players within could understand. It was a choice I made and there are no regrets at all. We worked with each other; lived with each other; strategized and socialized with each other, and loved each other — well, most of us did. We were a team of political enthusiasts and existing in a world very unlike the world around us. It was weird to be a part of this sub-society, but an honour as well. It required a lot of hard work, long days, full weeks, months and years of being on call, unrelaxing and often interrupted vacations, successes and failures, relationship break-ups, family stresses and separation from friendships that existed before. In a sense it was cult-like and when the guru lost, we all lost and suddenly we all felt lost. 


Yeah, Yeah, I can hear the violins and they make me smile right along with you. Let’s just carry on …


It has taken me 14 months to come to this point in my sixty+ years of life. That very unusual job, came to a very sad and sudden end. The work is too difficult to explain in a nutshell. Most of it I am not allowed to share, but suffice it to say that I loved every bit of it and was deeply impacted when it ended. I now accept that it is over and I am never going back.


When I do the aquafit classes and even when I move over to the deep end to dive and swim once in a while, I feel myself doing confident and energized front strokes, back strokes, breast strokes and side strokes but, at the same time, I am thinking and meditating, strategizing and embracing an ambitious, interesting and fulfilling new chapter in a life that has been more than six decades in the making. 


Aquafit classes really have been like learning to walk through life in the real world all over again. Creating new patterns and routines. Reconnecting with friends and family.  Making new friends and welcoming new family members. Mingling with different personalities. Opening up new doors. Taking chances. Learning new things. Sometimes walking against the current. Sometimes diving over what was, cautiously plunging into what is, confidently swimming towards what is to come, keeping my head above water, realizing that — just as Tom Petty said — I AM FREE. Or, how about Elton John singing Butterflies are free to fly!  I have been freed and my options are limitless.  


So, as I bring this free-flowing aqua generated and aqua infused story to a personally therapeutic and eye opening end, I can see that the jumping jacks, shuffling my body  left, right, forward and back, kicking my legs very hard and reaching out my arms fast and far, as well as singing out the lyrics of familiar songs and talking to strangers, has all been effective aqua-therapy. Yes, that is what it has been for me — physical and mental therapy, the kind that money just cannot buy!


To the Instructors and all the aquafitters in the Hyde Creek class of 2018, thank you for unknowingly helping me along this new journey.