Aquatic Therapy: A Growing Trend with Proven Results
Joe Stilwell was still in high school when his curiosity became a dream that would later end up helping others and changing lives.
Stilwell is now the owner of Hydrathletics Aquatic Therapy and Sports Training, a facility that utilizes both in-water and on-land therapy and training for clients from varsity athletes to physical rehabilitation patients. But he was only a teenager when he discovered the basis for his Kingston-based business that helps clients achieve their fitness and rehabilitation goals.
While in his neighbour’s backyard pool one day, Stilwell found himself intrigued by the differences between jumping on land and jumping in water. As a lifelong athlete, Stilwell was struck by the potential this difference could make in athletic training.
“I thought to myself ‘This would be really good for jump training – plyometrics – because it’s low impact but high resistance through the water’,” he recalls with a smile.
“And that was it. I spent the rest of that summer looking things up online and researching the idea.”
That same summer, Stilwell came across a company called HydroWorx Inc., which manufactures pools specifically for athletic training and aquatic therapy purposes. Throughout his studies – first receiving a diploma in fitness and health at Loyalist College and then his bachelor of science degree in kinesiology at Dalhousie University – Stilwell kept in touch with HydroWorx, and continued to keep tabs on the company’s growth and the rising awareness of the benefits of hydro therapy. After eight years of education, peppered with some traveling, more research, and a marriage, Stilwell moved to Kingston to be with his wife.
He spent about three years planning and designing a business plan while working at Focus Personal Fitness and St. Mary’s of the Lake therapy pool, and in November of 2012 he made it happen: He opened the doors of Hydrathletics and his very own aquatic therapy and training facility.
Located in Kingston’s west end on Midland Avenue, Hydrathletics is the first facility in Canada to feature an advanced aquatic therapy pool by HydroWorx Inc. for use by the general public. Other such state-of-the-art pools in the country, are either privately owned (by the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Calgary Stampeders) or opened publicly after Hydrathletic opened, a testament to the rising popularity of aquatic therapy and fitness training. And while water-based training for athletic purposes is a proven practice, the benefits water-based therapy can make for those with injuries or ailments are remarkable, Stilwell explains.
“It’s a huge difference, especially for people with chronic pain – issues with walking, sitting, or just any type of issue that they can’t do on land, they can do in the pool,” he says, pointing out that while in the water, clients can unload their body weight while engaging in physiotherapy and rehabilitation exercises. This means that post-operation patients and those overcoming other injuries are able to begin therapy much earlier in a pool, and can engage in conditioning long before they are ready for land-based rehabilitation.
“You can build it up and get back your strength in the pool without the stress on your body,” Stilwell says, “And that strength transitions to the land. We work with clients through that transition, ensuring they are comfortable and not pushing themselves too hard, and helping them to overcome their injuries.”
The pool itself, maintained at 92 degrees, is equipped with an in-water treadmill for both cardiovascular exercise and gait training. Underwater cameras connected to multiple monitors allow clients to see themselves in real time from both a front and side angle. With multiple water depths, the pool includes a seven-foot deep well for complete un-weighting of the body, and adjustable jets create increased or decreased resistance for enhanced training.
But Hydrathletics is not all about in-water training. The facility boasts a gym facility for land-based rehabilitation and training, a full-time athletic therapist, a physiotherapy room with a full time, on-site physiotherapist, a massage room with a registered massage therapist, and complete changing and locker room amenities.
For Stilwell, it is not only the recognition of his long time dream becoming reality, but the results and feedback from clients as well that have made Hydrathletics exactly the facility he’d anticipated, even in those first moments when he was a teen.
“I’ve had clients from five- to 88-years-old in our pool. Hearing the excitement of a client saying they were able to stand up from the couch or bend down to feed their cat… it’s really great,” Stilwell says.
“People love being in the water. It motivates people, hugely, and it really helps them in the long run.”
Joe Stilwell is a life-long athlete who has dedicated his career to helping others achieve their health and fitness goals. While playing university level volleyball, Joe earned degrees for both personal training and kinesiology. His dream of opening a water-based training facility was born out of a thesis he wrote involving jump training at Dalhousie University. Upon graduating, he chose to pursue a career in fitness, and for the past three and a half years worked as a personal trainer through Focus Personal Fitness, where he acquired the skills necessary to turn his dream into reality.