A local water aerobics instructor talks fitness in Northern Virginia

Alexandria-based Chechena Furlow has been teaching aquatic fitness to seniors for over 25 years. Here, she shares exactly what that’s like.

women doing water aerobics in pool
© Photobank / stock.adobe.com

For the past 13 years, real estate agent Chechena Furlow has been assisting Alexandria residents in the buying and selling of their homes on a daily basis. And while she loves her career, Furlow has another role in life that she’s been perfecting for more than 25 years: She’s a water aerobics instructor for the city of Alexandria

Over the course of the past 25 years, Furlow has fluctuated between leading five lessons a week to now two, guiding primarily seniors through an arrhythmic lesson in various community swimming pools. From basic stretching to even congo lines, there’s upbeat music played the entire time, which according to Furlow, is what keeps the participants coming back. 

“They want something with rhythm no matter what,” says Furlow. “We always warm up, then there’s a stretch, then there’s some type of pre-cardio and then we do our aerobic exercise.”

Here, Furlow shares exactly what her experience in fitness has been like in Northern Virginia, and how her version of water aerobics benefits everyone involved. 

What is the experience like for seniors who participate in your ‘water walking’ classes

They are very serious about it, which is something I find in general in Northern Virginia. Some of my clients come from other counties too, even though they have to pay a bit of a higher premium. My water walking class is only one of very few in the area. I must say, the music is really why they come back. It is No. 1. I only play what my class wants, and they want music that moves them. They love the oldies, tunes from the ’70s. I’ve learned to improvise a lot of what the water classes do into this class. I input a bit of jazz, ballet. We work the hips, the arms. 

I stand on the deck and when we get to the cardio, I get in the water with them. We do swing your partner, a soul-train line, circuits, all kinds of fun movements. We often use pool noodles for partner exercises and that gives them the chance to chat—they love to chat.

What are some of the challenges involved in teaching water aerobics?

Those that are returning from knee, hip or back surgery tend to move a bit more gingerly, so I need to work with them individually. With the pool being as long as it is, some of them will work in and out of the class, deciding which routines to join and which to sit out on. There are modifications that can be put in place; they may just walk up and down the wall if we are moving at a faster pace.

Talk to me about the community aspect of these classes.

I see the same faces every week. In a year’s time I might get three or four new people but on the average, my regular classes consist of anywhere from 10 to 14 people. 

I am extremely close with these people. We do three functions a year, we are coming up on our spring affair. One of the ladies has invited us to her house for the past seven years, and that’s in the spring, with her cherry blossoms are blooming in the yard. We sit out on the patio and we hang out. That’s their opportunity to tell me what they like and what they don’t like about the class, then we change it from there. When it comes to the music though, I have a rule: If they don’t like my music, they have to bring me something they would like. 

You’ve been doing this for 25 years. What keeps you coming back every day?

It’s in my blood. I’ve been teaching for so long that I don’t feel good without it. There are so many benefits to it, mentally, physically and temperament-wise. I am a much better person when I get to exert those knots that are beyond my control in this routine. It’s also the people, we all have the best time together. It’s our escape. 

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