17 September 2021

Older members 'appalled' as AIS pulls the plug on aqua-aerobic classes

| James Coleman
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AIS Fitness Centre

The AIS Fitness Centre houses three pools and a gym. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

News that one of the ACT’s largest fitness centres is pulling the plug on their aqua-aerobic classes has dealt a heavy blow to dozens of middle-aged and elderly Canberrans.

On Thursday, 9 September, members of the Fitness Centre at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Bruce received an email notifying them that it will not be reopening after lockdown lifts.

Operated by Sport Australia, the centre has been closed since the ACT went into lockdown in early August, but this was the first members had heard of a permanent closure. It has left them annoyed that they weren’t consulted and unsure of where to go next to keep fit and healthy.

The Fitness Centre incorporates 25 and 50-metre pools, a gym and a training pool. The closures will impact the gym, personal trainer sessions, recovery programs (dry and aqua), group fitness classes (dry and aqua) and school holiday programs.

The learn-to-swim classes and public swimming access will be business as usual once COVID-19 restrictions allow.

John Rees is one of many older members affected by the seemingly out-of-the-blue closure.

“There has been no consultation with any of the people who go to the centre, some of whom have been there for 20 years. All of a sudden, they get this email – on ‘R U OK’ Day, no less – saying that the Fitness Centres is closing. For a government agency, we think this approach by AIS has been appalling.”

The 25-metre pool forms part of the AIS Fitness Centre. Photo: AIS.

John says they want someone to talk to rather than “close us down and put us out on the street”.

Seven classes were held weekly, with a minimum of 50 to 60 people attending each class. Combined with the gym, there are about 200 members on the books at the Fitness Centre.

Many of these people are unable to use treadmills and other forms of vigorous exercise and have turned to aqua aerobics for cardio and resistance exercises. The buoyancy of the water supports the body and reduces the risk of muscle and joint injury.

“There are no other places in Canberra providing the same level of support and, indeed, dedication to their clients as is provided by the Fitness Centre management team at the AIS,” John says.

The email from AIS sent out to members reads that the Fitness Centre and associated programs are “no longer commercially viable in what has become an increasingly competitive fitness sector”.

To assist members in finding other facilities, AIS also compiled a list of other fitness options available to members in their local areas and negotiated some discounts for these.

READ ALSO New AIS initiative sparks an important conversation around female health

John and the other members are grateful for this effort but having looked into these options, but he says none are on par with AIS services.

Not only that, but the current COVID-19 restrictions in the ACT mean that none of them are open.

“We can’t even go anywhere for the next four weeks to consider what these other options are,” John says.

“I am concerned that if forced to go elsewhere, many will just opt out entirely and give up, to the detriment of their physical and mental health.”

He adds that for him and other members, it is about more than just keeping fit.

“Someone might say that it’s only water aerobics and who really cares, but here in the ACT, we have been focussed on the aging population for many years. And this is something that is quite devastating for many of them.

“It is not merely a place to focus on our physical health and fitness. It is where we go to meet up with friends and maintain our connection to the community.”

John says they have sought a meeting with Sport Australia so all issues can be put on the table with the aim of a good-faith review of the decision but have had no response to date.

A spokesman for Sport Australia says that members and holiday program participants are being contacted, and refunds will be provided for any fees paid and unused from the start of the ACT lockdown.

“Members are also being assisted to find alternate facilities nearby that can offer a similar service.”

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Jaanos Eesti10:27 am 20 Sep 21

The cancellation of the school holiday programs was very disappointing and, to be honest, doesn’t appear to make commercial sense. Their sports programs were almost unique in Canberra in that it had a high degree of structure within the program (not too much “down time” between games) which certain children thrived in. Likewise their specific sports programs offered good coaching, a mixture of attendance options (including 5 days). Whilst there were other companies making similar offerings, the AIS school holiday programs were priced competitively, with good staff, decent facilities and a had a strong track record in terms of quality of staff, program structure. I am amazed that they have been cancelled and know many families who are gutted to have lost their children’s favourite holiday camp option with no really comparable offerings available to replace it. A real shame.

Was the only program in the green but couldn’t support what was in the red.

Finally Relented8:17 am 20 Sep 21

Is Sports Australia local or federal?

I trained at the AIS a few years ago and I couldn’t wait to get out. Awful place. The predominance of hard concrete and the general cold atmosphere – including the freezing cold change rooms – combined to make training a chore rather than a pleasant experience. It was like something out of the Cold War Soviet union. Perhaps that was the intention when it was built. Added to that, staff who really didn’t know anything about sport and who were just bureaucrats serving time. I’m glad I got out of there. Since leaving, my training has moved ahead in leaps and bounds.

I was really shocked and saddened to hear the AIS gym was closing. It is hard enough coping with lockdown without another blow to deal with. I joined the gym initially to rehabilitate after two total hip replacements, firstly in the pool with a specially created program in the early stages and then progressing to a specially written program using weight machines in the gym. After many months of inactivity and pain, it was liberating to be able to move thorough the water in a safe way. After 5 years I am still at the gym and have recently used the machines to recover from a chronic achilles strain. It is such a wonderful place for the elderly that is not provided by other gyms who cater more for the fitter, younger person with very different expectations. Once you know how to use the equipment, a supervisor is not necessary and there was an emergency button if needed when the gym was unattended. So if money is the issue, please let us oldies use the equipment without a staff member. Although I was provided with a list of alternative gyms, from experience I just know that there are no other gyms that cater for the elderly like the AIS gym. Please, please, please reconsider this decision.

Thank you for this article. As one of the beneficiaries (10 years) of the very successful, and irreplaceable, aqua program, my hope is that some alternative funding can be found to keep it alive. We, the members have appreciated the professional and targeted approach of the instructors. The membership do pay, and are happy to pay, a fee for what is vital for our mental and physical well being. I have been attending these programs on average 5 days a week and there are no equivalent pools with the same capacity for attendance and ability to deliver these quality targeted programs. The pools will still be operational, it seems a pity that we cannot continue to reap the benefits of the daily exercise and personal connections. It is a community/family that we are losing and many of us are devastated.

Ross Buchanan Young1:57 pm 19 Sep 21

Well said! The aquafit programs have been my fitness mainstay over several years, as I contend with osteoarthritis. I see no reason why they cannot find a community based provider to run the aquafit classes on agreed terms – if for whatever opaque reasons they are unwilling to continue offering them. We should all be concerned that this just might be the first step in closing the pools – and turning their backs on the Canberra community! The ACT government must support us in objecting to this action.

I must congratulate AIS for the way it announced its close-down, it’s a master stoke in PR. The strategy of minimizing the negative reaction worked wonders during the COVID-19 lockdown, we can’t do any physical protests!
I wish the power that be can have a bit of foresight and consider the external benefits of a healthy senior citizens. Why can’t our society be positive by instigating programs to improve the wellbeing of our seniors, instead of blaming the oldies for being a burden of society?
I like to bring to attention of an article “Have you been discriminated against because of your age? You’re not alone” in yesterday’s (18/09/2021) Riotact.
The answer: Yes, we are being discriminated against!

Been in the works for years, covid is a lucky cover.

mteekamb33ra1:29 pm 19 Sep 21

As one of the hundreds (not dozens ) of senior citizens affected by the closer of AIS Fitness programs I am at a loss as why there should be a profit motive from a Government body . Surely Sports Australia has not taken into account the savings on medical and mental heath these programs bring .
The alternatives suggested are not really alternatives that most of us could actually use or benefit from .It was at the least just a token gesture By Sports Australia to seem like they actually cared about us .
I am hopeful that some other funding will be found perhaps from Federal Health ?? as this is a health issue .
On a personal note I have benefitted from the programs that made me fitter and aided my speedy recovery from open heart surgery .
Keep this program alive at the AIS ..

They were operating at a loss (in the covid years only) and this was a convenient excuse to finally close after pushing to remove commercial businesses for years.

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