Retirement gives people an opportunity to become fitter and healthier. Teaching is quite an active occupation but hours of sitting marking books, writing reports and eating unhealthy food on the run can take their toll.
We are fortunate to live ten minute’s walk from the University of Wollongong. They have a gymnasium and 50 metre heated outdoor swimming pool. I can’t remember who first told me about Aqua Jogging but my husband and I decided to try it as a relatively painless way of improving our fitness. We were very impressed with the t-shirts worn by some members. Designed by Judy Horacek, an Australian cartoonist, artist, writer and children’s book creator, the image depicts the Fast Lane, the Slow Lane and our group of Aqua Joggers, the General Bewilderment Lane.
We found the group to be friendly and supportive. Far from being bewildered they came from a range of backgrounds and were happy to talk about any topic. Whenever a new instructor arrived, it took time for them to realise that the group had the ability to listen to instructions and talk at the same time. In the background could be heard cassettes and thumb drives of personally chosen music, CDs playing Hits of the 60’s and 70’s, local radio and more recently Spotify Playlists.
To begin with, Aqua Jogging was just that. We would travel up and down the pool using arms and legs in various ways; jogging, cycling, skiing, ladder climbing. We would also perform various movements in the deep water; windscreen wipers, pendulums, star jumps, around the world, first with the aid of a flotation device and later with polystyrene dumbells. There were push ups on the side of the pool or push and pulls. For forty-five minutes we would keep moving and talking, starting at 7.15, with a rush for the hot showers at 8 o’clock. This was all very well in the summer but getting up in the dark on a cold winter’s morning, walking in wind or rain to the pool, I often wondered if we were all crazy. The steam would be rising from the water which would usually be a balmy 26-28 degrees Celsius. Some of us wore Radiator vests made of a wetsuit material to keep our upper bodies warm as the cold wind hit our shoulders and faces. On our heads we wore beanies for warmth while in the summer we wore hats and sunglasses to keep off the sun.
The coffee shop in the gym was a place to carry on conversations started in the pool. At nine o’clock everyone would be gone to avoid the paid parking, while we walked home observing the rapid expansion of the university over the years.
Then Covid arrived. All gym sessions and aqua jogging ceased. We still kept in contact online, using our chairs and improvised weights to keep fit. The sessions were sometimes from the instructor’s homes and sometimes from the empty gym. Then one magical day we were back. The pool was still cold as the boilers hadn’t had time to heat the immense body of water but we couldn’t wait. How wonderful to be back in the water after months of abstinence.
The powers that be decided to change the name to Aqua Fit to more aptly describe the nature of the exercises. More time was spent in the shallow end to build up bone density and muscle tone much to the annoyance of some. This feisty group of mainly senior people was a confronting cohort for a young would-be instructor. Only the brave remained and earned the respect of the group through sheer determination and adaptability. Much loved are the instructors who devise unusual activities like this pre-Christmas obstacle course challenge.
After the Covid lock down ended the group time changed to 7.30 am. Sessions reduced from five to three days a week. Apps appeared on phones to prebook and numbers in the summer rose to well over 30 people. We know that come winter, only the true believers will face the dark and the cold before slipping into the relatively warm water. That is of course when the heaters are working which is most of the time. Then it’s a cold dash to the showers before warming up again in the steaming hot water. When the showers run cold on rare occasions the screams from the horrified Aqua Joggers can be heard far and wide.
The congeniality of the Aqua Joggers is something to be treasured. If members have suffered a personal crisis they find generous support and friendship from the rest of the group. Outings are organised, camping trips, overseas travel. A book club has just restarted after a long Covid hibernation. Not everyone is involved of course but the option is always open for all to participate.
I was never into sport and team games but now have found an activity that works for me. When I first retired I said I would never get up before 7 o’clock but now we are both up at 6.30 am Monday to Friday, three days in the pool and two days in the gym. The 21/90 rule states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change (Dr Maxwell Maltz 1960). It is now unthinkable to stay in bed when the alarm goes off as there are sunrises to see, people to greet, stories to tell and when warm and dry, a steaming double shot flat white to drink surrounded by good company and stimulating conversation.