Aquarobics - Workout keeps seniors in the swim

By Ruth Longoria

After an intense 45-minute workout, Islander Eleanor Wible swiftly pulls herself out of the pool, shakes water from her body and walks briskly across the cement floor.

Except for the seasoned hair, hidden beneath her plastic shower cap, you'd never guess that Wible is 82. She barely looks a senior citizen. And, she certainly doesn't move as one might expect an elderly person to.

Wible credits her spry physical form with participation in the aquarobics program, a water aerobic exercise workout for adults and seniors held three times a week at Mercer Island's Mary Wayte Pool.

``I owe my health to this,'' Wible said of the activity that has become a part of her life two mornings a week. She started coming to the class 28 years ago with her sister, Carol Turner, now 66.

``Carol told me about the class. She thought it might be a fun way to exercise,'' Wible says. ``Now, we couldn't do without it.''

That's how many of the more than 20 women felt on a recent Monday morning as they hopped up and down, twisted side to side, pushed, pressed and pulled their arms in and out of the sloshing water. Though there were smiles on a few faces, there was no attempt to imitate the grace of Esther Williams as the women focused on lifting their limbs to the pulsing rhythm of ``Grease,'' ``Flashdance,'' ``Gonna Fly Now,'' ``The Power of Love,'' and ``Pretty Woman.''

Most of the aquarobics students workout at the pool two or three days a week, says Michele Jacobson, the instructor for the Mercer Island group for the past three years. She taught for 10 years prior to that at Northwest Center Pools' Redmond site.

Participants pay for five-week sessions, at a cost of $93 for three times per week or $62 for two times per week.

Teaching aquarobics came naturally to Jacobson, who majored in recreational leadership at Central Washington University. Jacobson, now 43, started out as an aquarobics student in 1988, in Ellensburg. She had just had her first child and the classes provided an exercise compatible with her physical condition, she says.

``That's one of the good things about aquarobics, you can join at any skill level,'' she says.

A teacher at that class talked her into becoming an instructor. Now, Jacobson teaches six classes a week at the Mercer Island facility and also works in the Edmonds School District. She commutes from Brier, where she lives with her husband, Ron, and their two children, Katie, 16, and Andrew, 14.

Jacobson says her husband is supportive of her teaching and even took an aquarobics class with her. Men are allowed to join the classes. In fact, there are five in one.

Though the class is intense and provides a good workout, it's also an opportunity for women -- and men-- to feel part of a group, Jacobson says.

``New people come all the time, and they don't ever feel left out of the community. Everybody talks to everybody, there's a lot of wonderful people here,'' she says.

What strikes Jacobson most about the aquarobics group is members' longevity. A majority has been in the class for more than 20 years. And Wible isn't the oldest lady participating. There's another active 87-year-young member, she says.

``I would challenge you to find people in any other sport or class that lasts this long,'' Jacobson says. ``People can do this for 30 years and still recognize the benefits: If you look good and feel great you know it's worth getting out of bed in the morning.''

Islander Pat Aldape, 67, agrees. Aldape, who has been in the aquarobics program for more than 25 years, says she has always been somewhat active -- skiing and bicycling -- but aquarobics has been a springboard for bigger, more challenging activities. This August, together with about a half-dozen of her fellow students, Aldape will participate in the Danskin Triathlon, a yearly event in which more than 4,000 people swim 0.75k, bike 21k and run 5k to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Last year, Aldape broke her elbow when she fell off her bicycle, so she wasn't able to participate with her friends in the event. She will make up for that this year by traveling to Orlando, Fla., in May to be in the triathlon, and then do it all over again in August in Seattle.

``The aquarobics program is just wonderful,'' Aldape says. ``It's got me doing so much more than I ever did when I was younger. And, the triathlon is just kind of a challenge. We need more challenges as we grow older.''

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