Feature Article - January 2008
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Aquatic Programming Gets Back to Basics

By Emily Tipping

Branching Out

To reach even more people with the healing powers of water, you can consider moving beyond the basics to add programs like aquatic exercise or aquatic therapy for populations with special needs.

As part of its move to the new facility, AquaChamps Swim School expanded its programming to introduce AquaTherapy, a program for individuals to "experience healing in the water," and AquaBilities, which allows individuals living with disabilities to achieve the dream of becoming aquatic champions.

"We do a lot of water therapy," Vawter said. "A new portion of our program helps people with Parkinson's or people who are recovering from a recent hip or knee replacement. They can immerse themselves in the healing powers of the water. Water is a natural force, so they don't have the same physical restrictions as they do on land. It's so good for the mind, and from there it heals the body as well."

The Keller ISD Natatorium also runs a water therapy program, partnering with the local chapter of the National MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Society. Users of the aqua-therapy program may have MS, while others have Alzheimer's or other health-related problems. The program is physician-prescribed, and the local chapter reimburses the natatorium for lane usage and the cost of instructors.

"In terms of the good feeling of knowing that what we're offering is really benefiting others, the program has far exceeded what I could hope," Feris said. "We have 20 to 30 in every class we offer. We're considering offering even more classes because the interest and the need is so great. We're doing our part to help all types of people. It's not just for the hearty who want to come in and lap swim or the recreational user in open swim. This is an extension of who we are and what we were designed for."

Vawter said AquaChamps takes its aquatic therapy programs beyond people with physical disabilities to offer programs to people with Down syndrome and autism as well, groups that he said are unfortunately often forgotten in the aquatics industry. "We allow them the opportunity to be in the water and learn what success is," he explained. "For those with Down syndrome and autism, the water is such a releasing force. They're able to relax and not have these noises and sounds going on around them. They can immerse themselves and hear nothing but their thoughts."

The Keller ISD Natatorium also reaches this audience, offering an adaptive PE class for kids with special needs. "The first year we had 87 participants, and now we have about 115 participating in that program," Feris said. "A lot of the kids have Down syndrome or autism, and the majority are at the middle school or high school grade level, but are at the third-grade learning level. It's been incredibly unique, and it's so much fun."

Other ways to branch out include offering aquatic exercise programs. If you have the staff for it, you might even be able to branch into what Spannuth believes is the future big revenue-producer for aquatics: aquatic personal training. While he said the current top money-making aquatic program in the United States is swimming instruction for children 5 and under, he believes that five years from now, aquatic exercise personal training will take its place, whether it's private one-on-one instruction, semi-private

one-on-two or one-on-three instruction, or group personal training.

You also can expand your programming by getting out of the pool, as AquaChamps Swim School has. "The basis for all of our programming is access to success is through the mind," Vawter explained. "We wholeheartedly believe that if you encourage people mentally, they can take on anything, and success comes from there."

Along those lines, Vawter said AquaChamps has added out-of-the-water programming, including Spanish, sign language, music and aerobics classes for kids. "Anything that helps their sensory development in and out of the water. Kids learn from their senses first and foremost, and if you can focus your programming on that, I think anyone can be successful."

Special events offer another tried-and-true method to get more people to the pool. Wheeler said that in addition to the traditional programs offered at the city's pools, Oakland's aquatic facilities also feature occasional special events, such as a movie night or a dog event, as well as evening activities for youth. "We have a pretty rough community, so we try to provide nights at the pool," he explained.