Aquaholics Anonymous

I confess: I’m losing count, and I can’t seem to stop, but here I am trying out yet another pool.

The pool area (aka natatorium) is hangar-like in size and there is water absolutely everywhere. For an aquaholic like me, this is paradise found. There’s a smorgasbord of pools to choose from, including a large hot-tub, a shallow area with inclined entryway for children and the disabled; and even a pool with a movable floor.

OJ chose this facility because she heard about its therapeutic pool. And, would you believe it: the water is, indeed, set at a toasty, almost-sweaty 89 degrees. Hallelujah!

We’ve driven all the way here to investigate a class called Aqua Arthritis, with Carolyn K. It’s mid-morning on a weekday, so we can pretty much be assured that the pool will be mostly swarming with seniors. As it is.

When I first stroll down – yes, stroll, because hobbling is an inelegant way of entering a body of water – the inclined pathway into the therapeutically-heated pool, I need to watch my step as I sidle by parents who are lolling about with their infants in ankle-deep water like beached whales and their litter.

OJ hops in from the other side after a brief conversation with a lifeguard. We wait on the shallower side of the pool, roped off from the deeper end (not more than 5 feet in depth) where the class is about to start.

Pool-shmoozing is in high gear. The waiting crowd is comprised mainly of senior women, some decked out in shower caps. But, two men stand out like a pair of boys in leotards surrounded by a roomful of pink girly tutus: Carolyn’s sidekick (a.k.a. husband) sets up the CD player and pumps up the volume for a warm-up; and Richard, the silent type, seems content to let the women hoot and holler, while he stays close to the wall.

And then, like a Queen Latifah hitting the red carpet (minus strobe lights and paparazzi), the larger-than-life figure of Carolyn appears from around the corner. If the smiles and cheers are anything to go by, Carolyn is a celebrity in her own right – at least among this bunch. To the howls and applause of all present, she struts into the pool. Endowed with a booming voice and chest-size to match, Carolyn is soon enveloped by her adoring fans and bubbly followers. These water-women are clearly devotees.

The regulars are already in the groove, swaying and swishing to tunes barely audible over Carolyn’s voice and the facility’s echoes. The music ranges from Frankie Valle and Frank Sinatra to 70s and 80s hits like What’s Love Got to Do With It.

But wait, there’s some kind of bling thing going on: some of the women pass around an object that looks, from afar, like it just might be a silicone breast implant. They pass it around like a hot potato, with one woman – egged on by the hysterical laughs of others – finally shoving it into the bosom of another’s bathing suit. Throughout the class, the women keep asking: where’s the bling? At the end of class, just as we finally discover that the object is actually a massive (fake) crystal, one woman jokingly threatens to drop it down Richard’s trunks.

OJ and I try our best to follow the parade of underwater moves, walks and kicks. Though we’ve both taken our fair share of aerobics and dance classes, here we’re clearly out of our depth: these women put on a show far surpassing our expectations. We are in awe of their vigor, impressed with their antics, and amazed at Carolyn’s ability to seamlessly integrate humor into a therapeutic workout.

Looking around at this energized group, it’s easy to forget that many of these women, mostly in their 60s and 7­0s, suffer from crippling arthritis or other aches and illnesses. For an hour or so, they shelve their pain long enough to kick ass in the pool. They dip and swish, they rock and roll, they belt out the tunes like nobody’s business. These ladies don’t do lunch… they do laughter. Deep in that well of warm water, among other aquaholics like me, I’ve found a workout with heart.

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