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African-American Swimmers

Summer is here and the pools are open! This summer, we want Black kids and parents to get in the pool and have fun.

For parents still in the process of learning to swim, aqua aerobics can be a first step in overcoming fear of the water and increasing your level of comfort so you can eventually learn how to swim. Plus, it’s a great workout!

We asked Darniece Shirley, owner of Darquatics, and known as the ‘Aquatician’, to explain aqua aerobics and aqua fitness as well as share a bit about her passion for all things aqua.

Black Kids Swim: So, what is aqua aerobics?

Darniece Shirley: Well, it is definitely not a bunch of old ladies jumping around in the pool! Aqua aerobics and aqua fitness uses the physics of water to affect change in the body overtime. When we are in the water, we are constantly – yet unconsciously- resisting hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the force exerted on the body by the water and it is applied equally across the entire body. So, our muscles are working and becoming toned without much effort.

BKS: That was a pretty specific answer….

DS: (laughing) I’m a nerd at heart, I’m a mathematician and my day job is an actuary for insurance. In essence, I’m a specialized mathematician. That’s how I came up with the title ‘Aquatician’. It’s a play on the words aquatics and mathematician. It’s using the science of water to help develop ones body to have full range of motion and to effect change on the body.

When people hear ‘aqua aerobics’ they think about their grandmother’s workout. So, I prefer to call it aquatic fitness. Using that term puts people in a different mindset. I do a lot of education on the body, and how the water affects the body.

BKS: Do you prefer aqua workouts over a typical gym?

DS: I’ve never been a gym rat. I’ve been in the pool since I was 10 months old. Theres something about the pool and its smell and the environment that is very welcoming and soothing to me. Something has always drawn me to the pool. It was my favorite part of summer camp and now I get to do it and see the benefits that it brings to other people. I just absolutely enjoy it.”

Teaching aqua aerobics is important to me, I’m improving and extending peoples quality of life. And it’s really really fun.

 Darniece’s classes incorporate various exercise equipment to make sure students have a good time. Aqua spin, aqua yoga, and even aqua kickboxing which helps hip function, and increases the motion in the hip flexors. “It’s all about balance.” Class time is used to create muscle memory to stay grounded on one foot while the other foot is in motion.

BKS: So, we heard you have a secret ‘free breast lift,’ what is that?

DS: Yes, that’s pretty popular! We do elbow squeezes bringing our arms up to our ears while bringing the elbows in front of our face. It lifts the rectus abdominis while working the back at the same time.”

BKS: What are the health benefits of taking an aqua fitness class?

DS: In one class, we complete a circuit of hydro spin, aqua kickboxing, arm curls or chest presses, and resistance bands. In a one-hour class students can burn more than 800 calories. And there’s no need to feel intimidated. My classes are no-judgement zones. If you’re doing something and it’s comfortable to you – and you’re feeling it in the target muscles – then feel free! We’re here to work out and have fun. It’s all about wellness for me.

BKS: Some of our swim parents and readers do not yet know how to swim. Can they still take your classes?

DS: You don’t have to be a swimmer to benefit from a fitness class in the pool. People are afraid that if they can’t swim they can’t participate. But that’s just not true. And you don’t have to get your hair wet! My hair is always done, but I’m not afraid to get my hair wet if necessary. I have non-swimmers in my class. I’ve had to hold peoples hand and walk them to their hydro spin bikes. But after 4 weeks they’ve forgotten all about their fear. And after our classes they are more willing to take another step towards swimming or being active in the pool in general.

BKS: What is your favorite part about being an aqua fitness instructor?

DS: I have students who say “my doctor told me I need to get in the pool” and they don’t always know what that means when they show up for class. But we work together and we find a routine that works for them and improves their health. The most exciting thing for me is when people say “my doctor reduced my diabetes medication” or “I don’t have to use a cane anymore.” That means I’m changing people’s lives, and that’s why I love it.

BKS: That’s amazing, to be able to contribute to other’s healing like that. Why did you become the ‘Aquatician’

You don’t have to be a swimmer to benefit from a fitness class in the pool. People are afraid that if they can’t swim they can’t participate. But that’s just not true.

DS: I’ve had chronic knee injuries since childhood. My knees like to dislocate for no reason so I had arthroscopic surgery at 15 years old and again at 22. The surgery led to atrophy in my quadriceps so I had to learn how to walk again and being in the pool helped with that.

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. So I returned to the pool because for me water is a place of healing. Aqua therapy helps with balance, strengthening the core to improve balance. The hydrostatic pressure in the pool allows me to engage the muscles and ground myself and be one with the water.

BKS: Does Multiple Sclerosis make it difficult for you to be in the pool? I’ve been to a ton of swim meets and indoor pool environments can get pretty humid.

DS: Most people don’t know I have Multiple Sclerosis, I don’t live my daily life that way. It’s invisible for me. Sometimes humidity can be hard on me and I’ve found that warm water therapy pools can be detrimental for those with Multiple Sclerosis. So I use the same techniques that are used in warm water pools but I do it in cooler water because that’s better for myself and clients with Multiple Sclerosis.

BKS: What makes aqua fitness classes with the Aquatician unique?

DS: We try to have fun! I recognize that people are coming from work, and rushing to the pool. Most people just need a break. So I give them 45 mins of relief – and a great workout.

I also focus on what I call the ‘mood boost’. I can’t ever recall someone leaving my class angry. You may come in having a bad day or having received some bad news but there is something about being in the water that changes your mood. And aqua fitness classes help with your sleep. You sleep so well after a class. You’ll also have increased stamina, agility, and flexibility.

BKS: We love it! So, how do we sign up for one of your aqua fitness classes?

DS: I am an employee of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) so you can attend my classes listed in the online catalogue.  Normally, I teach at the Theresa Banks Memorial Pool in Glenarden Maryland, as well as other pools in the area like Fairland, Rolling Crest, or Allentown. I’m also a contractor at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland. If you are active duty or retired military you can attend my classes there.

By appointment, I can teach a class anywhere in the DC/Metro area at a pool convenient to the client and myself. You can reach me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using my handle @daraquatics

BKS: Do you do other aqua fitness related activities or education outside of your in-water classes?

DS: I enjoy speaking and presenting at aquatics related conferences, train the trainer master classes and product demonstrations.

Black Kids Swim is so thankful to the ‘Aquatician’ and her commitment to improving and extending the quality of life in our community. We appreciate her love and support and hope you will check out her classes.

Darniece Shirley is the owner of Darquatics, an aqua fitness instruction company operating in Maryland, Washington D.C. And Virginia. She is an AEA member, AFAA personal trainer and an American Red Cross lifeguard. Darniece loves public speaking and teaching aqua fitness classes, however she does not teach swim lessons at this time.

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