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Karen Turns a Bad Day Into A Good One

by Dorothee Kellinghusen, staff writer

Karen Jones and her Water Aerobics class in the water. Photo by Wyatt Pace

“This is all about you.”

Karen Jones’ loud voice carries over the water from one end of the pool to the other.

“Get the best out of this,” she said enthusiastically as if it were a run to the dessert table. But it is not. Jones and 12 others are exercising in the Warren Wilson swimming pool. It is Friday morning after 11 a.m., the time when the community service club “Water Wise Aquatics” meets with Jones, the instructor.

Since February 2012, Jones has been a part-time employee at Warren Wilson College, teaching and instructing classes in the pool. But people who meet her do not think of her only as a swimming or exercising instructor.

“She spreads a contagious positive spirit” said Virgina Pike, a participant of the Water Wise Aquatics club.

“We come because of Karen,” says Pat Polansky, another member.

The Monday, Wednesday, Friday water aerobics class is offered to the community as a service project of the college. But this is not Jones’s primary task. As a part-time staff member of the college, she gives swimming lessons to students, and also teaches students to teach water aerobics as a one credit hour class. At the end of the eight-week term, students have the option to get the water aerobics instructor certificate.

“She is amazing”, says freshman Claudia Mormino, who watches Jones during her life-guard duty in the aquatics center. She has also taken Jones’s class a few times.

“You would not think that exercising in the water can be that hard,” she said.

Movements in the water are easier than in air, where there is less pressure on the body. People with joint and bone issues prefer to exercise in water. Nevertheless it looks easier than it is.

“I was sore the day after my first water aerobics’ class,” Mormino said.

Then again, it is not only the workout that draws students to the water. It is her energy, her enthusiasm and the way Jones cares about each person.

One example is when Jones helped a student on campus with depression. “Twice, she did not come to my class,” Jones said. “So I asked about her and heard that she locked herself in the dorm-room and wanted to be left alone. Nobody should be alone. So I went to see her and told her that I missed her and I needed her in my class.”

The girl did not miss a class afterwards.

Jones spends a lot of time in the water. Every day there is a water aerobics class for students, staff and faculty and people from the community. The only day she stays in the dry is on Sundays. On top of the exercise classes, she gives swimming lessons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. But that is not all she does for a living. Jones spends about as much time in the water at a Senior Living Community in Asheville working on flexibility and strength with the residents.

Jones’s personal goal is to learn something new every day. “I ask myself this question every morning,” she said.

Right now, the beginner’s guitar lesson class at Warren Wilson is her newest challenge. Before that, she took pottery classes in Asheville, specializing in tile making. The 50-year-old mother of four children enjoys a diverse life. For many years, she worked as a banquet or pastry chef for luxurious hotels as well as for wealthy private families. She came to Asheville in 1997 working for the five-star Grove Park Inn in Asheville. There, she specialized in diets for people with health problems or cultural differences at the spa café.

“And I am still giving dietary advice to the people around me; including my water aerobics classes,” she said.

But the passion she has maintained throughout her life is being in the water. “I was on the swim team in high school and later on worked as a lifeguard,” she said.

Then she taught her children how to swim as well as their friends and even scout groups. At the beginning of last year, when Warren Wilson’s director of aquatics and head coach of the swim team Andrew Pulsifer asked her if she wanted to work for him in the aquatics department, she did not hesitate to take the job. “What I enjoy most about this position is to work with kids, college students and adults of the community,” she said.

In the water aerobics class, Jones says, “Work your legs and work your arms,” and it sounds more like singing than a command. “I love what I do,“ she said laughing.

After 45 minutes of cardio and stretching all muscle groups, the class is over.

“I am in better shape than I’ve ever been”, said Pat Polansky, “and I am 67 years old.”

The oldest athlete of this group is Virginia Pike, being 82 years old. She tries not to miss a class despite some health issues. “It is not all about the workout,” Pike said. “I especially come when I have a bad day, because Karen will turn it into a good day.”

Linda Kookier said, “We come to have fun, to talk and laugh together. And Polansky adds, “Karen is the best.”

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