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That's the Spirit: Fay Chapman - Coonabarabran

For the past two decades, Coonabarabran’s aqua-fitness group has been helping to keep local bodies and minds healthy and active. Fay Chapman is one of the founding volunteer instructors, and says the group is as much about connectedness and wellbeing as it is fitness.


That’s the Spirit’s JEN COWLEY went along for a morning’s fun and fitness with Fay and some of her group.


Jen: Can you tell me about how the Coonabarabran Aqua-fitness group began?


Fay: The group has been going since 2009 and we’ve certainly evolved since then.  We started off as two of us, but that lady is no longer participating. We started off because we both wanted to do some more exercise. I love swimming, so I thought what an opportunity it would be to do both at the same time. So we did a course with Western Area Health, as it was then called. They put on instructors for us as we’re volunteers and we started off like that. We started off 20 years ago and we’re still going strong.


Jen: Over those years you’ve had all kinds of different people come and go from the group.


Fay: Oh yes, yes. We have about six instructors now so that spreads the load and, you know, they’re all different, they do different activities so you know there’s a good variety for people doing the group. At the moment, we have six programs across six sessions a week at different times and it seems to be very popular.


Jen: Do you and your fellow group leaders give your time as volunteers?


Fay: Yes, we don’t get paid or anything. We only charge people $2 for each session and then we give that back to a charity or we buy equipment that we need or we send equipment to other groups that need it. So that little bit of money is just there as a backup. We feel that if people got in for nothing then they tend not to appreciate the opportunity as much. We don’t charge too much – we figure that $2 is fine and everyone seems to be happy with that.

Jen: Do you see different types of people joining in and doing the group sessions, or does it tend to be a single demographic?


Fay: Over the years here’s certainly been a variety – there’s young people and old people, but mainly we see more mature-aged people who feel they need to keep exercising but they don’t like doing things with high impact. On solid ground it’s too hard on their joints, but they find the water is gentler and easier on the joints. Water is a great place to exercise.


Jen: It’s not just about the exercise, is it? It does tend to bring people from different demographics together, that wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have much contact.


Fay: No, it’s not – it brings people from different sections of the community together, people who wouldn’t necessarily have much contact otherwise. It’s a good place for social interaction. There’s certainly a lot of people from different walks of life and it really does bring them together. They socialise and get to know each other, and mix with people they probably haven’t met before. That’s really good, that social aspect.  

It’s about exercise, of course, but it’s also about getting people out and about and that helps reduce isolation. That’s particularly true with the older people. They don’t seem to get out as much and their activities are more limited, so when they come here, they really feel the benefit, and not just physically. They get to know a different demographic, a different age group than they would normally have mixed with.


Jen: You’ve been doing this voluntarily for more than 20 years so you clearly enjoy it – what are the benefits for you?


Fay: Oh well, I get my exercise too! I also attend the other leaders’ sessions when they’re doing them. I’ll go along to their lessons because I enjoy doing the exercise and keeping up with it all. I think it’s helped in that way, health-wise, but it’s also been great socially. I know lots more people in town than I would have met otherwise. And I also get great satisfaction from knowing that I’m helping other people to keep healthier.


Jen: How do you think the aqua-fitness group adds to the social, or lifestyle, fabric of the town and how important are groups like this when times are tough in regional areas?


Fay: I think it’s a great place to just forget about your worries for a bit – you know, people can have some exercise and feel they’re doing a lot more for their health than they would be if they were just sitting around worried about things. I just think it’s another opportunity for getting together with other people who maybe don’t have the same problems and forgetting about it while exercising and enjoying it and keeping cool on hot days!

It’s also something else that’s on offer in Coonabarabran as an activity – another thing you can do in Coona.



Jen: What’s the best thing about living in Coonabarabran?


Fay: I’ve lived here for about 30 years.

Jen: So you’re almost a local then?


Fay: Almost! (Laughs.) It’s the people and the community, you know there’s so many people who you mightn’t know well, but you still have a connection. When my husband died, I had so many people coming up and hugging me in the street and saying how they’d been thinking of me. And people who I would never have thought would be thinking of me sent cards, saying their thoughts were with me and our family. This is a very supportive community.


Jen: What do you think are some of the misconceptions about life in a small community like Coonabarabran and what would you say to people who have those misconceptions?


Fay: People probably think it’s boring here. You know, they think “What’s this little town got?” as they drive through. But once you live here, there’s just so many things you can get involved in. And the people are wonderful, just wonderful. The only thing I would really miss if I moved away would be the people. All of them. It’s the people that really make this town what it is.

*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.

NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020. 

Click here to order a copy of the 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book.

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