Moving for a good cause


The cold weather outside was nothing to the energy felt and generated at 24 Hour Fitness over the weekend.

Jacqueline Gikow and Janet Sanchez got people moving at the 298 W. 231st St., location to music like “Bailando” from Enrique Iglesias and “Greased Lightning” from the 1978 film “Grease.” And it was a chance for everyone to donate to a good cause — the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

It was all part of World Aquathon Day, which made its way into the mainstream when Rose Hartzenberg — a fitness instructor from South Africa — started the event five years ago to celebrate aquatic fitness. Since then, 79 countries have joined in, with some partnering with charitable organizations to encourage not only fitness, but philanthropy.

The worldwide event first made its way to the 24 Hour Fitness two years ago when Gikow joined the staff. Her former boss loved the idea, even suggesting the Memorial Sloan Kettering because of the positive experience he had when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Gikow has kept the partnership with the cancer center as a way to support exercising for a good cause. With Sanchez by her side, the two work together to provide a three-hour class, each hour focused on aquatic aerobics, aqua Zumba and strength training. Participants don’t need to be 24 Hour Fitness members, but they are asked to donate $10 toward the cancer center.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s not as threatening as a land class because you’re underwater, so nobody can tell if you mess up,” Gikow said. “It introduces new people to a different way of being able to be active that they might not have thought of before.” 

Aquatic fitness might sometimes be misinterpreted as an aerobic activity for older women, but it’s a great way to strengthen your core — no matter your gender or age, Gikow said.

“While the buoyancy of the water helps you, the pressure of the water also works against you,” she said. “So in many ways, gravity kind of helps you when you’re doing some kind of movements.” 

The water activities also are a healing tool for people who are recovering from illnesses like cancer, something Gikow is familiar with because she’s taught a breast cancer recovery class before.

“The thing that you can do in the water is you can recover more quickly than you can on land,” she said. “You have an ability to get a range of motion that you may have lost in surgery, or may not have from limited mobility from being ill. Or in the case of chronic illnesses that your mobility or strength has been deteriorating.” 

Aquatic fitness also helps people who suffer other types of pain. Lauren Stewart, a participant in last Saturday’s event, suffers from joint discomfort. Taking aquatic aerobics classes three times a week makes all the difference.

“I can do things in the water that I can’t do on the floor,” she said. “So I really enjoy it.”

When it comes to the excitement of World Aquathon Day, Sanchez said people’s “smiles, them working out, (and) the energy that they bring” help make it a worthwhile experience for her as an instructor.

Sanchez and Gikow both hope that first timers will drop in to take part in the event next year — even if they’re a little apprehensive about a new kind of exercise.

“If you fall,” Gikow said, “you’re just going to get wet.”