Residents dive back into aquatic activities

Gloria Miller, right, assistant manager at Anthony’s Ladies Apparel in Colony Plaza and Village of Osceola Hills residemt, helps Arlene Kaplan, of the Village of St. Charles, with clothing combinations.

The glimmer of smiles supplemented the sunshine on the water Monday at sports pools across The Villages. As The Villages Recreation and Parks Department continues its measured approach to reopening recreation facilities following the COVID-19 pandemic, droves of residents were thrilled to have the chance to return to their aquatic sports and activities on Monday morning. The resumption featured 23 different water exercise classes across 11 sports pools, 13 sessions of water volleyball — totaling 27 hours of play — and two additional learn-to-swim courses provided by The Enrichment Academy. “We’re really excited about this next step,” said Mike Burleson, recreation facilities manager at Lake Miona Recreation Center, which hosted a morning exercise class and midday water volleyball play. “We’re excited to open these pool activities back up, and we’re thrilled to allow our residents an opportunity to return to some sense of normalcy, too.”

That feeling of normalcy was welcomed by Julie Lincks, of the Village of Poinciana, who took her place in the Lake Miona Sports Pool on Monday for Joyce Wichie’s Water Exercise class.

“It’s just absolutely wonderful to be back,” said Lincks. “As soon as we could come back, I wasn’t going to miss it.”

And it was the alternative, the out-of-water fitness, that kept Lincks itching for a return to the pool on Monday.

“I had to do some other exercise stuff in the meantime,” Lincks said. “I did some walking here and there … and I hated it.”

The reopening of pool sports and activities came with its own set of social distancing guidelines, including a limit on the number of people in the water at once. While staying 6 feet apart in the pool, exercise groups with semi-stationary sessions will be limited to 40 participants — including the instructor — while walking-style sessions are reserved for 20 or fewer participants. Designated entrance and exit points also vary by each pool location.

“I think with everything that’s gone on, we’re all excited and willing to do whatever it takes to get back into the water to exercise again,” said Wichie, of the Village of Buttonwood, who hosted the 50-minute aquatic exercise course at Lake Miona. “You can tell it’s really important for these people to be together and exercising again.”

Sun-drenched skies and afternoon temperatures in the upper-80s on Monday coincided perfectly with the return of water volleyball, as players flocked to the pool to cool off with some friendly competition once again.

“After three months, it’s absolutely fantastic to be back out here again,” said Bob Roth, of the Village of Osceola Hills, an ambassador for the sport at Rohan Recreation Center. “We’re so happy to be playing again, because I really feel like it’s the best sport for people our age. It’s stress-free, relaxing and you get so much exercise with it.”

New water volleyball guidelines dictated no more than 56 or 28 players in the water at once — depending on the number of courts in use — with only far outside courts at each location available for play.

“Everybody’s been waiting and waiting to hear the news, and so we were really excited,” said Marsha Rametta, of the Village of Fernandina, who enjoyed water volleyball action Monday at Eisenhower Recreation Center. “We were a little nervous because we didn’t know how it would work out, but (Recreation and Parks) organized it very well. Everyone’s doing their social distancing, we’ve got the four corners covered and it’s working out well.”

And for those residents of The Villages who make aquatic sports and pool exercise a mainstay in their active lifestyles, the return to the water brought acquaintances new and old together once again.

“The best part about it is seeing your friends and neighbors again,” Roth said. “I play seven days a week and a couple hours each day, so you really get to know everyone when you do that. It’s definitely good to see all these smiling faces again.”

Staff writer Cody Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5286, or Staff writer Drew Chaltry contributed to this report.