24 hours in London: 6 a.m.–8 a.m.
By Kaleigh Rogers
As the sun comes up in London and most people are still in bed, one downtown building is bustling with an unlikely energetic crowd.
“If we knew you were here, we would have gone au natural,” quips one participant when he spies a student journalist, the only fully clothed person in the room.
It’s the 7 a.m. aquafit class at the Waterloo Street location of the YMCA of Western Ontario and the students are restless because the instructor is missing in action. As they bide their time in the whirlpool, the lifeguard on duty, 18-year-old Mo Nabavieh, prepares to teach the class himself.
“I’ve never done this before,” he admits as he raises the floor of the pool and pulls barrels of foam pool noodles out of a storage closet. A few moments later, the 80’s soft jams are cranked and the three participants who decided to stick around are easing into the pool.
“This is cold compared to the soup bowl,” jokes 66-year-old Brian Bouckley. A retired insurance broker, he tries to make it to the class five times a week. He says the water puts less pressure on his joints while still allowing for a challenging workout.
“It’s become my primary exercise. I have arthritis so I have some issues with joints and the water is good resistance,” he says.
“It supports our bodies so that it’s not as hard on the knees and the ankles where as if I was up in the gym I’d be dead.”
Today, first-time teacher Nabavieh is putting them through their paces. He starts out easy with standing leg lifts and an underwater skiing motion, but after a half hour the class switches from light aquafit to deep aquafit, which means it’s time to get moving.
The students start to walk and run through the water around the perimeter of the pool. Nabavieh doesn’t hold back – he does each exercise along with them from the deck, walking and jogging along the edge.
The class slowly starts to fill out at this point, topping out at around 20 participants—half male, half female. They make their way into the pool, shedding towels, flip flops, and the occasional walker or cane before joining in. The participants are a noticeably older crowd—one woman pauses to chat and says this is “the old people class”—but you’d never know it from their high energy.
Nabavieh keeps everyone entertained and the blood pumping with a mix of standing and running exercises and stretches, from leg lifts using a pool noodle for resistance to arm-swinging power walks through the water. It’s a full body workout for all involved.
“Being in the water gives you a different resistance than you would get in the gym,” Nabavieh explains. “Some of the exercises don’t work unless you’re in the water, so there’s a benefit from that.”
It’s not purely a physical activity, Nabavieh says, but a social one as well.
“All of (the students) know each other. It’s kind of like you’re always with your friends.”
This is evident by the chatter and laughs that fill the pool during the class. No one is afraid to joke with one another—or with the reporter—while enjoying the benefits of physical activity.
The social side is something Nabavieh can relate to himself. He’s been coming to the YMCA since he was a six-month-old baby. To him, it’s a second home that feels more like play than work—even on days like today, when he has to start his shift at 5:15 a.m.
“It’s not really going to work,” he says. “It’s going to the Y. I love it here.”