If enthusiasm is contagious, that might explain the excitement of the ladies present at Wednesday night’s water aerobics class held in the natatorium of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Instructor Tyrell “T.J.” Meadows jumped and yelled. keeping things moving as the ladies splashed around following his lead.
The one-hour session started out calmly enough. The women eased down the steps into the pool, chatting with one another as they found their spot in the water. After a few warm up stretches, the music was pumped up and it became apparent why many of them have had so much success.
“Get those knees up,” Meadows said with the force of an army sergeant, smiling the whole time. “Higher, c’mon, higher.”
But he didn’t just yell out directions. Meadows stood on the sidelines kicking and flapping his arms as perspiration trickled down his face.
“He really pushes us to do our best,” said Mary Lackey, who has lost 42 pounds.
Lackey, 65, had undergone back surgery when her doctor sent her to rehabilitation. She has been in Meadow’s class the entire two years since he started the position. The weight loss is only one of the benefits she’s experienced.
“It has strengthened the muscles in my back and took a lot of the pressure off,” Lackey said. “I have so much more energy, I’m able to climb stairs, and I don’t need to take anything for back pain now.”
Lackey said she began to see results in about one month with no crash dieting.
“I just modified my lifestyle,” Lackey said.
Water aerobics is only one of several components of UAPB’s wellness program, Black and Gold Fit and Bold, but one of its most popular attractions.
The program started in 2009 when a committee concerned with improving the health of the campus community envisioned the compound benefits of physical activities for faculty, students and others in the community.
As a self-insurance campus, the committee was motivated to implement ways to lower the incidence of health-related issues, said committee member Cynthia Anderson. Providing a program to empower individuals to achieve fitness goals and adopt healthy behavior as a lifestyle made sense.
“We could see the nation going toward fitness,” Anderson said. “So, we began offering programs with different activities including line dancing, Zumba, regular aerobics and water aerobics.”
The water aerobics classes, held year round in a temperature-controlled pool, average about 30 people in the summer and 20 in the winter, Anderson said.
“That’s impressive when people are committed enough to come out in the cold weather to swim,” she said.
Anderson, also a participant in the class, credits much of its success to Meadows.
“He’s just a great teacher,” she said. “People are at all different fitness levels, but he takes time to let them work at the pace and intensity right for them.”
Lackey said that when she first started, she was barely able to endure more than a few minutes.
“He’s very knowledgeable,” she said. “He would let me do a few minutes, but he made sure I didn’t get lackadaisical. Each time, I would do a little bit more than the last.”
Meadows can’t believe he gets paid to do his job.
“It’s kind of like what your parents tell you,” he said, “don’t just go for a paycheck, but go for something you’ll enjoy. And I enjoy helping people every day.”
His non-monetary reward is the excitement shown by his students as they make progress.
“Now I never claimed to be that, but my students tell me all the time that this is my ministry,” Meadows said. “I don’t know, but if this is what God gave me to give to people, I will gladly do it.”
As much as he loves what he does, the popularity of the class, in Meadow’s opinion, is that water aerobics is effective and easy on the body.
“Because a person’s body weight decreases by 60 percent in the water, there is basically no impact,” he said. It gives you a feeling of being out in space and weightless, making movements easy.”
Water aerobics is beneficial for all, but especially for anyone experiencing joint pain, Meadows said.
“It doesn’t beat up the body,” Meadows said. “And the ladies like being able to get up and go to work the next morning.”
Lackey added one final benefit.
“He (Meadows) has a way of making me feel like I am his favorite in the class … but he makes everybody feel like that,” Lackey said. “He has no favorites.”
Black and Gold Fit and Bold Wellness program is open to all. For more information about water aerobics or other activities in the program, contact Cynthia Anderson at 870-575-8863.