by Sasha Reddy
Judy Velazquez has been a star on the Group Fitness stage for years now. She holds a dizzying number of exercise certifications and teaches or subs for nearly every group fitness class HAC offers. Judy’s aqua fitness career, though newer, has been no less successful. In under a year, she’s gone from teaching occasional classes as a substitute instructor to leading a large portion of our Aqua Fitness Program. This past March, Judy’s talent as an instructor was even recognized by the trainers responsible for WATERinMOTION®, an aquatic exercise program taught at fitness centers worldwide. She only became certified in the program a few months prior; unbeknownst to her at the time, the leaders of the program had their eyes on her from the beginning.
Judy’s love of fitness started around 2009 when Zumba® was coming into fashion. She got involved with the program when a friend asked if she’d be interested in getting certified together; shortly after that, it became Judy’s new obsession. “Zumba overtook my life. I lived for Zumba,” Judy gushes. Luckily, it seemed that a lot of other people were living for it, too. The program was in high demand by corporations everywhere. Soon, Judy was booking gigs for everyone from insurance companies to hospitals and even the City of Newark. Meanwhile, she continued investing time and effort into her new career by pursuing certifications in yoga, Pilates, core exercise, and more. The more her repertoire expanded, the more gigs she got and the more her passion as an instructor grew.
Over several years and countless jobs scattered around the Delaware area, Judy’s exercise addiction only continued to grow. Eventually, a friend and former group fitness instructor at HAC recommended that Judy start teaching classes at the club, too. HAC needed a Saturday/Sunday Zumba® instructor, and for Judy, the shoe just fit. She joined the team in November of 2012.
Once Susan Storm, HAC’s Group Fitness Director at the time, saw Judy’s passion as an instructor and learned about her other certifications, she was eager to draft her to teach more classes. Judy quickly went from a twice-per-week substitute instructor to a constant presence and cherished teacher at HAC. Her class load doubled, then tripled; soon enough, she had claimed several of her own slots on the group fitness schedule. “It came to a point where I didn’t need to work anywhere else,” Judy says. Within a few months, she had phased out of all her other teaching gigs; she could fulfill all her teaching wants and needs in one place, and Susan was more than happy to give her the work. Over the next several years of her career, Judy grew a following of members who attended her classes devoutly. She racked up even more certifications (Les Mills BodyPump™, RPM™, and CXWORX™, to name a few), and today, Judy can teach or sub for pretty much every Group Fitness class at HAC except for Kettlebells. Due to a bad knee injury from 2016, Judy is no longer able to teach her beloved Zumba® classes either, but all of the new classes she’s learned and loved over the years have more than made up for that.
It wasn’t until mid-2019 that Aqua Fitness became a significant part of Judy’s life and career. “[HAC] had been putting out these memos about an Aqua Instructor for WATERinMOTION®,” Judy remembers. By that point, she had subbed some Aqua Zumba® classes here and there over the years; aside from that, aqua fitness didn’t really appeal to her. But the pleas for new instructors kept coming. Several months of emails later and Judy caved.
Judy wasn’t just new to WATERinMOTION® – the program itself was also reasonably new to HAC. It was introduced as an offering of the club only a year earlier in Fall, 2018. “Initially, some members balked at the prescribed nature of the program,” says Andy Morris, HAC’s Aquatics Director. “It was more rigid than many of our offerings at the time. But within a few weeks, the format was widely embraced, and after people ‘got it’ they fell in love.” WATERinMOTION® is a carefully constructed program with specific choreography that changes quarterly, similar to the LesMills classes upstairs. “What separates us from other programs is that WATERinMOTION® is not just a class; it is a complete system,” says Sara Kooperman, co-founder of WATERinMOTION®. “The unique sequenced music combined with creative choreography correlating with the music provides the foundation of WATERinMOTION®.” In other words, the program may be rigid, but its effectiveness is proven. Judy is a self-described “rule-follower” – her dutiful attitude toward teaching can be traced back through her former careers as a police officer and member of the Marine Corps – so she quickly found that the program’s fixed style was a perfect match to her style as an instructor.
Judy’s live certification training took just one day, though it was part of a multi-day conference for fitness professionals. At the conference, she had the chance to take WATERinMOTION® classes hosted by Connie Warasila, co-founder of WATERinMOTION® and program choreographer, and meet other program presenters that would be evaluating her during her training the following day. These classes not only provided a great learning experience for Judy but also gave Connie and the rest of the WATERinMOTION® team a chance to observe Judy’s ability as an instructor. And they definitely noticed her skill.
Before the live training day ended, one of the presenters approached HAC’s then-Aqua Fitness Coordinator, who was attending the training with Judy. WATERinMOTION® releases training videos seen by instructors across the country when new program materials are released; they wanted Judy to appear in their next set of videos. “I thought they were joking,” she recalls. They had only seen her at the one training, after all, and Judy does not make a habit of drawing attention to herself. “I like to stay in the background. If I go into a class, I’m always in the back of the room. Even in the training, I was the one in the back of the room.” She may be shy and sometimes even self-doubting, but she’s got an unyielding eagerness to learn and further her career. She gratefully accepted the offer to participate.
Fast forward to March of 2020, and Judy was back in the pool for four grueling days of filming. Really, the actual filming took the least amount of time; most of those four days were spent practicing routines, reviewing moves, and making small choreography changes before the cameras could start rolling. “It’s long and hard,” says Judy. But the experience was just as challenging as it was rewarding. She was happy to meet some of the WATERinMOTION® Champions, a curated group of instructors from across the country that come together to film launch videos and participate in other promotional events. They’re a tight-knit group, to which Judy was the newbie, but they welcomed her with open arms. In fact, before filming was even complete, Connie named Judy a WATERinMOTION® Champion.
WATERinMOTION® Champions are representatives of the program. The group consists of instructors chosen for their abilities to learn, demonstrate, and queue choreography effectively, excite class participants, and create an all-around enjoyable class climate. Typically, Champions have to submit a video, provide a qualifying letter of recommendation, and meet a slew of other requirements. “Judy had the technique, style, willingness, and desire to learn and excel in aquatics training. She is the exception to the rule,” says Kooperman. “We want instructors that are able to connect with the individual but still lead the group. Finally, we want someone who can excite their members. We need instructors that inspire and motivate. Judy has all these elements and more!”
Through her promotion to Champion and her continued role at HAC, Judy hopes to emphasize the importance of aqua fitness programs across the board. For as many classes as she teaches – nowadays, it’s around 13 per week – Judy sees little crossover between the groups of people that take her Group and Aqua Fitness classes. Many people share the common misconception that aqua classes aren’t as “challenging” or don’t lead to significant results. As far as Judy is concerned, you get out of each class what you put into it. In the pool, especially because of the increased resistance, you’ll feel the effects when you’re working hard; that’s just what Judy likes to see. “I love hard work, and I love to work with people that love hard work,” she says. No matter your age or athletic ability, aqua fitness can serve you, and as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, Judy’s happy to help you get the results.