Water Aerobics, Chin Ups, Cancer and Bad-Ass Women at the Pool

Water Fitness

Okay, so we know it revs us up, melts pounds, keeps us limber and tones the ticker, but I’ve been enjoying another undersold benefit of regular workouts for years.


It’s true that some socialize more than exercise—like the two ladies in water aerobics who are always chatting about what they had for dinner and what they’re going to have for breakfast. They both like gravy, so you can imagine the calories involved.

But most of the regulars work their butts off. Literally. When the normally caffeinated instructor tells us to crunch, we cruuuunch. When we’re doing karate kicks, we fling our legs out with martial-arts fury and sometimes add sound effects. When we’re sprinting and she says GO HARD and try to pass the person in front of us, I do. Then someone passes me and we leap-frog, almost trampling the two who are dragging along, talking food.

Mid-way through class, we breathe faster, grab for our water bottles, and grin at each other because the endorphins have kicked in. Bigger than that, commitment-wise, it feels like we’re all in, because we could just as easily have slept in, and the communal motivation is off the charts.

No one seems like a fitness freak though; just people devoted to moving their bodies and taking responsibility for their health. Also, I consider myself lucky that it’s a rec center, not a big-name fitness center. No intimidating Mr. Universe types pressing my body weight. No meat-market feel. No crazy membership fees. No overstimulating TV-cluttered walls that make me think there are more people in the building than there really are.

No one seems super young either with bodies that have never carried babies or been rearranged with age.

Speaking of age, from my perch in the hot tub—my treat after both Friday and Saturday water aerobics classes—I began regularly noticing a silver-haired woman doing chin ups in the pool before her laps. Three sets of twenty. Chin ups are like a circus trick to me. Plus, she was older and looked so at ease, so I instantly dubbed her a super hero in my head. But when I complimented her, she just shrugged and said it made her arms stronger so she could swim longer. You should try, she coaxed, but I didn’t want to look like a fool.

Back in the hot tub another day, I was admiring fuchsia flowers outside that just so happened to be near twins of the ones blooming outside my front door for the first time ever, only the name escaped me.

“Azaleas,” one of my harder-working classmates chipped in, casually adding that her son planted that bush for her after her second cancer surgery. Second was still echoing in my ears as she listed the flowers she thought she’d killed only to find out later they were still alive. She didn’t make a big deal out of her HUGE ordeal, so I didn’t either. Still, I was in awe of the defiant spirit that seemed to say: I will go on. I will stay fit and honor my body although it betrayed me. Twice.

She is not a little old lady yet, but close. No doubt in my mind that she will pump her body until she can’t and that inspires me to do the same because I want to be a bad ass too.

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