fitness pool

Bonnie Starwalt teaches “aqua tai chi” at the Workman Sports Complex.

Bonnie Starwalt smiles when you ask her about her pool. Her energy radiates through her arms when she instinctively demonstrates poses for tai chi, yoga or Pilates.

Starwalt teaches tai chi aquatics classes at the Richard E. Workman Sports & Wellness Complex. In these classes, she has participants move through various exercises and martial arts forms in the complex’s recreational pool.

“In the pool, you’re like a kid again,” Starwalt said.

Her playful attitude is apparent when she teaches, cracking jokes and smiling the entire time as people move and flex underwater.

“I can do exercises with you that you can’t really do on land,” she said.

The aquatics classes at Workman have a variety of styles, which include Starwalt’s tai chi as well as low-impact exercise, cardio, Zumba, Core Stix, deep water exercise and several combination classes that blend different workout methods.

In the water, the body’s natural buoyancy means less weight is placed on joints. This makes the classes popular with people coming out of physical therapy or who have recently had joint replacements. One student even came to classes after losing a lung.

“If you can relax, you can heal yourself,” said Starwalt.

Though instructors at Workman do work with physical therapists and even share the pool with HSHS St. Anthony’s Physical Rehab and Wellness Center, Starwalt stressed that they are not doctors or even therapists.

The aquatic workouts are low impact, but that doesn’t mean they are low energy.

“Just walking in the water is six times harder,” said Starwalt.

When someone moves through water for an exercise, that person’s limbs and body has to push water out of the way, effectively making it more difficult to move through, adding another dimension to the workout that can’t be easily replicated on land.

There are some “senior specific” classes offered at Workman, though all of the classes are open to anyone.

For the people who are self-conscious about getting into the pool because of looks or ability, Starwalt said her class members tend to be welcoming and that, for the most part, people don’t see you anyway since they are mostly in the water.

“No one knows and no one cares!” she said. “You can’t see and you’re having a good time.”

Classes at Workman are included in the cost of membership, which for Effingham Park District residents runs $39 per month for an individual and $25 for people 65 and older. For out-of-district residents, it’s $45 for an individual and $30 for those 65 and older. You can also attend classes by paying for a $10 day pass.

The complex also offers memberships through the SilverSneakers program, which is available to some people with a Medicare Advantage Plan. About 14% of the complex’s members are SilverSneakers members. Beyond that, the complex offers memberships to people through other UnitedHealthcare plans, Silver Fit and others.

“We’ve partnered with so many programs,” said Leah Ritter, the complex’s general manager.

For people interested in classes that aren’t so wet, Workman offers classes for a variety of skill levels on land, including sunrise workouts, sculpting, strength building, pilates, yoga and dancing-based fitness classes.

Ritter teaches a “Treadz” class that focuses on using a treadmill, which she says includes people of all ages. One of the ways she is able to do that is by offering changes to the workout to meet individuals’ needs.

“We can provide that modification,” she said.

Stacy Stanford is the fitness coordinator at Workman who coordinates, among other things, the personal training program. She has first-hand experience identifying workouts to benefit people at different ages.

“I have a couple clients in their early 60s,” Stanford said. “They’re working on their balance and their core.”

Personal training is offered for $30 for a half hour and $50 for an hour, though the complex does offer sales. Stanford added that she sees people in the classes she teaches and personal training clients have already raised their family and use their newfound free time for personal improvement.

“Maybe some of them are empty nesters and they’re ready to invest in themselves,” she said.

Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or

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Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or