sherry guill

Sherry Guill began walking on an underwater treadmill at SwimRVA so she could exercise despite knee pain.

Three years ago, Sheri Guill sat down at her computer and did a Google search on hydrotherapy. That was the start of her fitness journey.

Guill, who was 55 at the time, had never been much of an exerciser.

“My idea of exercise was playing ‘Candy Crush,’ ” she said, laughing.

But a bad knee that was causing her to limp and limiting her daily activities prompted her to check into local water options. The search led her to SwimRVA, the aquatics and fitness facility off Chippenham Parkway in Chesterfield County, where she started walking on an underwater treadmill in the 91-degree therapy pool.

A few weeks later, her physical therapist could tell she was doing something different.

“He said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.’ ”

She did, and she found that her knee — as well as her whole body — gradually got stronger.

“Then one day, I tried the deep-water class,” Guill said.

From there, her interest in fitness took off.

Now, she goes to the SwimRVA facility for both water and land classes, including a Zumba dance class that she never thought she’d be able to do.

“I’m to the point now that I work out two to three hours at a time,” she said. She’s quick to say that she’ll never “look like a Barbie,” but she’s lost 30 pounds and all of her medical tests now show that she’s in good health.

“It’s never too late,” Guill said.

And a good place to start, as she and many others have discovered, is in the water.

For those who are out of shape or struggling with a joint issue, water is probably the best place to get into an exercise routine.

“Water exercise is much easier on your joints,” said Myles Phelps, assistant aquatics director at the Weinstein JCC in Richmond, “and it’s a good way to get a good cardiovascular workout.”

He’s seen people come in to use the pool who could barely walk, but within a few weeks of water exercise are moving much better.

He’s also seen individuals achieve huge weight-loss results by taking water classes or swimming laps.

“There are some great transformations we’ve seen here,” Phelps said.

While the benefits of water exercise are evident year-round at facilities like SwimRVA and the JCC, the same advances in fitness can be achieved outdoors in pools, lakes and rivers in the summer.

Most local outdoor pools open in the next couple of weeks, which will significantly boost the number of options in the area for lap swimming and water fitness in general.

Simply playing in the water can be a lot of exercise because of the natural resistance it provides.

Dr. Debbie Kelo, director of programs at SwimRVA, said people are often surprised at how hard a water workout can be. Newcomers to her Running University, a circuit-training, water workout designed for runners, often end up asking her for a water bottle.

“They say, ‘I didn’t know I was going to sweat so much,’ ” she said.

She encourages runners to take advantage of water workouts for cross-training and to give their joints a break from pounding pavement. Sometimes, though, it’s tough to convince runners they need that break.

“If we can get them off the road once a week, they’ll be able to continue to run longer,” Kelo said.

For Guill, the introduction to water therapy was life-changing. Not only did she overcome her knee problems, but she found a fitness family at SwimRVA that has encouraged her to do more than she ever thought she could. She spends about 12 hours a week working out at the facility, and feels stronger than ever before.

“I honestly wish I’d have known what I know now as a 20-year-old,” Guill said.

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Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond Weinstein Center.

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