Gripping the railing, I slowly eased into the warm water pool at Island Health and Fitness on 310 Taughannock Blvd. Six people were already splashing around comfortably socializing with one another as they waited for the start of the Cancer Resource Center’s Saturday morning water aerobic course. As more classmates arrived, and instructor Judy Urban joined us in the water, the bump of music and the chorused reply of “good morning” set our cheerful group into motion.

The swishing transition from watery jumping jacks, to skiing, to rocking horses, to jazz legs had us bobbing to the beat, counting down repetitions and smiling through huffs of breath as we moved through the sets. Class pros, such as Bronwyn Evans and Sara Shenk, mirrored Urban’s lead, powering through the water with confidence, as fifteen or so bodies all merged in and out of informal rows.

In fact, most of the attendees are repeat recruits and navigate the physical, mental, and emotional effort it takes to live with a disease with as much familiarity as they do bounding sideways through the water. Each person signed up for the class has or has had cancer, lives with a chronic physical condition, or is a good friend or support person there with a loved one.

Dorrie Iaculli, a slight woman with shoulder-length, dark wavy hair lightly peppered with gray, participated in both meditation and yoga classes as she recovered from treatment last August. She first learned about Urban’s water aerobics course through friends in her support group at the Cancer Resource Center. “I so wanted to get in the pool,” she said. Iaculli joined swim aerobics last session and is in the midst of her second six-week course. “It’s just fun – it’s a great thing.”

And it has been since 2009 when the class first began. At the time, Urban was helping a boatful of cancer survivors prepare for the Fingerlakes International Dragon Boat Festival, or “Dragon Race” in Ithaca. Water aerobics in the warm water pool provided an excellent means for strength and conditioning for the athletes. Building upon the idea, Cancer Resource Center Volunteer Director, Sharon Kaplan contacted Urban and through collaboration with Island Health and Fitness, Saturday morning swim class came into being.

Since then it has grown from the fearless leader and four original members, to a consistent group of around fifteen participants. For three winter sessions, each 6-weeks in length, Urban can be found calling out movements and cautioning swimmers against “duck butts” – or the over-arching of the back during sets resulting in a popped-out rear end that decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. A running class joke is Bob Riter’s call of “quack quack!” from wherever he happens to be in the pool immediately after the warning.

As with any fitness course, the class is carefully constructed to give a progression of motions so that any skill or ability level can comfortably participate. “I don’t baby them,” Urban says. “They know their limitations, pick their option, and go with it.” She stresses that the value of water aerobics lies in the enjoyment of participation. “Maybe they can forget about [the disease] for a moment, or relate to someone. It gives them a positive attitude of themselves – I can do this. I can come and I can feel good.”

At the conclusion of the class, some head out, but others eagerly melt into the sauna or hot tub. “This is the best part” three-year class veteran Julie Plezbert grins. Those in the hot tub agree; “It’s a nice way to start a weekend.”

If interested in joining, water aerobics is held from 9:45-10:45am in the warm water pool. There is a discounted, non-member fee of $30 for one six-week session, but you can attend as a walk-in guest for $11. For more information, or to sign up, please contact Island Health and Fitness at 607-277-3861, or get in touch with the Cancer Resource Center.

By Keely Sawyer


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