Splish, splash, these seniors are having a laugh! Meet the aquafit class that's one big swim family

It's a pick-me-up, therapy session and exercise class all rolled into one. From left: instructor Barbara Ellis, Karen Walsh, Kay Hillier, Elizabeth Laing and Alta Rahman.  (Aisha Elgayar - image credit)
It's a pick-me-up, therapy session and exercise class all rolled into one. From left: instructor Barbara Ellis, Karen Walsh, Kay Hillier, Elizabeth Laing and Alta Rahman. (Aisha Elgayar - image credit)

It isn't just a physical workout that happens in the pool at the Ches Penney YMCA in St. John's — it's also one for the mind and soul. Along with the splashing, you'll hear jokes, laughter and heart-to-hearts among members of the senior aquafit class.

"We're one big family in that pool," said 82-year-old Barbara Ellis, the class instructor.

Ellis is a volunteer teacher for two aquafit classes at the YMCA. The morning one sees mostly senior participants, though any age can participate. The evening class draws a much younger demographic.

"For me, working with seniors is a lot more fun. They are more receptive to a joke and have fun while they work," said Ellis.

And Ellis makes them work. Her resumé is quite impressive itself. She's a retired physiotherapist, has volunteered with the YMCA for 10 years and recently was one of seven recipients of the Seniors Distinction Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

Not just here for the exercise

Vera-Lynn Penney, 68, is relatively new to the YMCA, joining in October 2021 after having both knees replaced.

"I find the class very rewarding and my fellow members very sociable, friendly and very comical at times, which makes for a lighthearted 45 minutes of enjoyment and camaraderie, all the while doing something good for my overall physical well-being," said Penney.

Aisha Elgayar
Aisha Elgayar

Karen Walsh retired six years ago and joined the aquatic programs at the YMCA to help with arthritis in her knees and lower back.

But the 62-year-old says it does more than just her body good.

"The participants are fun, caring, and interesting. There is a wide range of backgrounds, educational and work experiences," said Walsh.

"If you have a bad day people care and help to lift you up. I find when people ask how you are, they ask because they care."

Aisha Elgayar
Aisha Elgayar

Carol Boland stumbled onto the popular class, thanks to the Paul Reynolds Centre pool in St. John's being closed for repairs. Her granddaughter suggested she give the YMCA a try, and she has stuck with it since.

"It's great to get out of the house and get some social interaction along with exercise," said Boland, 72, who used to work as a human resources officer at Memorial University.

"We often chat to whoever is next to us in the pool or the dressing room. We have a few people in the group that are very outgoing and funny. I'm a shy person but I really enjoy them."

Aisha Elgayar
Aisha Elgayar

Alta Rahman, 75, a retired social worker, immigrated to Canada with her husband 48 years ago. Her husband was a full-time member of the YMCA.

"Since my husband died, I am a bit lonely and I consider the YMCA my second home," she said.

'We are a swim family'

While the laughs come easy, the participants of the seniors' aquafit class are there for each other in the tough times, too.

"We share a lot of our personal lives with each other and that helps us relieve some stress related to the illnesses and other problems that our spouse, children and good friends are experiencing," said John Reade, 76, a retired teacher and administrator at the Newfoundland school for the deaf.

"I shared tears with one woman who lost her mother earlier this year and worries with another gentleman whose wife is in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease," he said.

Aisha Elgayar
Aisha Elgayar

That camaraderie extends beyond the pool, change rooms and fitness facility, too.

Recently, Elizabeth Laing invited everyone in the class to her house for coffee and cake.

"Due to COVID, we could not get together so I believed we needed an opportunity for the pool friends to come together outside of aquatics to socialize," Laing said.

"We are a swim family. If someone isn't there, someone in the pool will know where they are."

Karen McGrath, 69, loved the get-together and hopes more of them happen in the future. In the meantime, she knows how special this class is.

"There is no doubt that members of the class have a special bond and the class is even made more special because of this."

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