Turning Obstacles into Opportunities
After trying out a S'WET class for himself, skeptical he would break a sweat let alone love the workout, NYC based fitness instructor DeJuan Lewis went on to become AEA certified, and started teaching his own aquatic fitness classes shortly after.
"Being a student and being a teacher are two very different things. But I will say that I do feel as though being a student first for as long as I was has helped me tremendously as a teacher," DeJuan told us. "I struggled for a long time in that water...And I had a lot to persevere, a lot to overcome. I do feel as though it gave me a level of empathy with students that would come in at a similar place."
As you'll hear in the below episode, DeJuan credits his experiences as an actor, musician, and behavioral coach to strengthening his skills as an instructor.
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OUR POOLSIDE PODCAST
Jenni Lynn: Joining us today is DeJuan Lewis. After trying out a class for himself skeptical he would break a sweat let alone love the workout. DeJuan became certified and started teaching Aqua fitness shortly after DeJuan credits his experiences as an actor, musician and behavioral coach just strengthening his skills as an instructor from the upper west side of NYC DeJuan. Welcome to alcoholics bootcamp.
DeJuan: Thank you, Jenni. Thanks for having me.
AJ: Hey, DeJuan. How are you doing?
DeJuan: Hey, I'm good. AJ, how are you, buddy?
AJ: I am doing well.
Jenni Lynn: Yes, we're all here. Finally. We made this one happen.
AJ: So DeJuan, where are you actually calling from?
DeJuan: I'm calling from New York City. I am remote. In my apartment. (laughing)
Jenni: (laughing) Like everyone.
DeJuan: Like all of us at this during this crazy time that we're all in?
AJ: Yeah. It really has been crazy. I miss New York. I miss you guys.
DeJuan: Yeah, we miss you too Buddy. I mean, New York is on the upswing right now. I feel...hopefully Fingers crossed.
Jenni: Yes. Hopefully. High High Hopes.
AJ: Have you been affected by the pandemic, and in any way personally, like, health wise or job wise?
DeJuan: I mean, I think all of us have been affected in one way or another. I mean, thankfully, I have been able to stay relatively healthy during this time. Of course, the gyms were closed. So I wasn't able to be teaching any classes or anything like that. But I was able to find some things that kind of kept me going. Quite a bit. I mean, because I think that that was a really important thing for everyone during this time, right? I mean, to find things that can keep you motivated, that can keep you from feeling down, that can keep you from getting depressed, stressed. I mean, all the things that so many of us are dealing with at this at this time, understandably, right. I think a lot of it is about framing it. For me, that's how it's been, right, like framing this time and looking at it as an opportunity more so than an obstacle.
Jenni: That's a very healthy way to look at it.
DeJuan: You know, just like I mean, you think about it, right? When we're, when we're going, go go, especially those of us that are here in New York, like New York has a very, go go go pace to it. And very often, we find ourselves talking about how, Oh, I wish I had more time to do this, or Oh, I wish I had more time to do that. So for me, I was just taking it as an opportunity to do some of the things that I hadn't been able to do because my schedule was so rigorous at the time. So I was able to focus more on creating music, I was able to focus more on even just reconnecting with family members and friends from back home.
Jenni: It sounds like you're keeping yourself busy with quite a few things.
DeJuan: Yeah. I mean, I think it's necessary, right? Like, I mean, we have the opportunity now to set our own schedules, which is something that we've been wanting, so many of us have been wanting so yes. So structure and trying to be disciplined about, about staying committed to those things is important for me just for my own headspace.
AJ: Yeah, I love that. I mean, I also I really love your quote that this is taking this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
DeJuan: Right. I think it's, you know, I think it's challenging to do that. But I think it's important for all of us to acknowledge that we're all in this together, right? Like we're all dealing with some level of struggle at this particular time.
AJ: Yep. You know, in having recorded several episodes with our guests, I'm gonna make a very bold statement. A lot of these people a lot of aquatic instructors and people who are involved in aquatics have such a positive approach to this whole thing, unlike a lot of other people who I talk to on a daily basis, who are just upset and dragging and like, when is this over and blah, blah, blah. And I'm going to go out on a limb and I'm going to say it's because aquatic people are used to working against resistance.
AJ: They are used to having to push and pull and feel that resistance and use what's pushing against them as a tool as something that betters themselves. aquatic instructors use resistance to improve the lives of others. And I think that this pandemic has proven to me that aquatic instructors and people who take aquatic classes and who work in the aquatic realm, are some of the best prepared to deal with resistance.
Jenni: Yeah, like that's it.
DeJuan: Yeah! That's very cool.
AJ: So how did you and Jenni Lynn meet?
DeJuan: So I've known her now husband, Chris, for over 10 years, Chris and I were working at a performing arts rehearsal studio in Midtown. And, and we became like, really good friends pretty much right off the bat. And then I met Jenni. And they were because they were dating at the time. And then Jenni actually started training me like being a physical trainer for me.
Jenni: Oh, my gosh, I forgot about that. (Laughing)
DeJuan: Ha! Yeah, that was quite a ride. (Laughing)
Jenni: I'll never forget the first session. DeJuan didn't even get off the floor. I did an entire floor routine for him and he was a sweaty mess on the floor. And I was like….we have some work to do, Lewis!
DeJuan: It was crazy. Because, you know, I've always been, like, athletic. And I've always been like, you know, I'm in pretty good shape. But working with Jenni was a whole different thing. I was just like, What is going on? But it was great. Because I mean, it really did challenge me in like, such a different way. You know, because when I was in high school in college, like, you know, I wrestled and played football, like all those things, you know, so, but then, you know, she's having me do things that really challenged my stability or my balance, flexibility, things that we especially as men tend to neglect, because we're just looking for we're just looking for strength.
Jenni: Yea. (laughing) How much weight can I push.
DeJuan: Right? Totally. Or how fast can I be? And how much weight can I push? So it challenged me in a different way. So it was something that I was really, that was really into. And pretty much from that point on, like Jenni was kind of like my like, I know, she was a guru for me, in many ways, because she would talk to me, she would talk to me about all these different things with the body, and different things in relation to nutrition, and things like that. So I was just like, oh, Jenni, what about this? What about this, Jenni? How about this? How about that? And she told me something in my face, which is start to like, Oh, my God, like, everything I'm doing is wrong.
Jenni: I mean, it's funny, because he actually did. I mean, on a weekly basis, definitely asked me like, so. What's a better option? Should I eat this? Or should I eat? Do you recommend this? Should I work out with this? Should I use peanut butter? It's like, we're I'm like, Well, I'm happy you asking? I'm happier. Like, you know, looking for the answers. That's the first thing that's a good thing. It was just so it was really, really sweet. Because I was like, Oh, you someone thinks I'm smart. And like it was, it was awesome. Because I appreciated the being asked.
AJ: Yeah, well, it was why, remember, Jenni, one of the ideas for a name of the show was going to be Jenni Says.
Jenni: Oh, that's right.
AJ: Yeah, because I did the exact same thing DeJuan. After meeting Jenni, I'd come home. And I'd be like, well, Jenni says that this decision, or Oh, Jenni says, I should be eating peanut butter. But Jenni says, I'm not doing my setups correctly. And Jenni seys…. and then at some point. I remember people being like, who is Jenni? And how do you get her to stop talking?
Jenni: Right? Exactly. Tell her to do like a blog every week if she has so much to say just get it out. That's so funny! Was your first water class with me at 56th street or was it Yorkshire?
DeJuan: No, it was actually 76th Street.
Jenni: Okay. Because I do have a vivid memory of you at 56th street right in the front row standing in front of me. And it was just your mouth that was out of the water…...we were doing a suspended cross country. Everything of DeJuan's body was submerged, but his mouth and his head were tilted back and he's looking up just giving it everything! It was so gratifying for me as an instructor to watch a man struggle in the water. I'm not gonna lie. But he got super determined to get better at it. I definitely appreciated that.
DeJuan: Oh my God! I was so outside of my comfort zone, I tell you. So outside of it. I mean, I hadn't, you know, growing up, I grew up in the city, right? So I'm not I'm not growing up where there's like, access to pools and things like that, you know, so, being in a pool was not something that I had really become accustomed to, or that I was really acclimated to. Right.
AJ: Well, it's clear from just talking to you that even though you said that you're out of your comfort zone, you seem to do best there.
DeJuan: I just wanted it. I just wanted to be good at it. I just really want it to be good at, you know, like, I don't like to be involved in things and then be like, Oh, this is too hard. I can't do it. So I'm not going to do it anymore. Yeah, I'd rather like Alright, well, I'll flail around and look crazy, for as long as I need to. But I know that if I stick with it, I'll eventually get even just a little bit better with it. And that was the case with water.
AJ: Yeah, obviously, I have been a student in Jenni's classes. For years, I've been a student with Chris, and Chris's classes. And I think I've been instructed by you, at some point, which I really do want to want to talk about is how you then took the class and decided, you know, I want to teach this, like, how did that happen for you?
DeJuan: It wasn't I it wasn't something that I thought to do. Actually, um, I was very much okay with just taking class. Very much just okay with that. But Jenni was the one who really started to kind of put a bug in my ear in that regard. Yeah, she would tell me that she saw how much I had improved. You know, like we said, I mean, you heard her story talking about how I started, you know, I could barely, even, you know, stay afloat, let alone do anything that was, that was even more challenging than that. So, um, you know, she would tell me about how she saw how much I had improved. And she felt as though I would make a good instructor and, you know, coming from her, that means a lot, because I hold her in very high regard because of the level of expertise that she has and has continued to prove. Yep. I'm over all these years. You know, so her telling me that I'm like, well maybe this is something that I should look into perhaps something that I should consider. And I fought it for a while. You know, it wasn't, it wasn't something I was like, Okay. Yeah, no, definitely. I was quite resistant to the idea of it for quite a while. But then, you know, and I honestly, I can't even tell you what it was that caused it to flip. I just think at one point, she had come to me again about it. And then now Chris had been teaching and he was kind of teaming up against me in that way.
Jenni: We called it a motivational coach. (laughing)
DeJuan: Yeah, yeah. (laughing)
AJ: I'm gonna tell you why. When Jenni and Chris aren't available, their students sometimes disappear as well, because they don't want to be taught by someone who can't give them the same intensity in the same demanding workout that Jenni and Chris both have offered. And I think what Jenni and Chris both said is, look, when we're at a town, and we're traveling for work, or whatever, we need people who can sub in who know what we're doing, who can do it as well. And who will keep the brand and the name of what it is that we're doing. alive. And well. And I think, personally, I think beyond the fact that obviously, yes, she saw that you were going to be a great instructor. That you would be the type of instructor that would continue to push people and that would not let down, you know, new students who are coming in and who may never return again because of having a bad experience. That's my guess.
DeJuan: Sure, exactly.
Jenni: Exactly. Exactly. That was a big, I mean, that was a big part of it. Because also, you know, he was familiar with our structure of teaching and how we taught and he enjoyed it. And, you know, not just speaking from experience in the class, but then you were also getting trained kind of one on one with Chris and myself at times, and just kind of, we would try to help you out to get you prepared to be on deck. And I think you were in a really good position as an instructor to kind of get both the education and hands on training before, you know taking that big leap and being solo on deck so to speak.
DeJuan: Right. Right.
AJ: Now you got your AEA certification around that time?
DeJuan: Yes, yes I did.
AJ: Correct me if I'm wrong, but did we study together?
DeJuan: We sure did. Yeah, we absolutely did, buddy.
AJ: I thought I remember being in your class. This was when the AEA was still doing in person, the practical exam, but we took that precursor, and did all that stuff with you. And I remember being in the classroom with you, and just how much fun we had, because it was also one of those things that was like we knew the secret about, once we got the certification, and once once we were, you know, had that gold standard, stamped on our resumes, that we could pretty much go anywhere and and start to do this as as not just something that we're passionate about, but actually follow through as a career.
DeJuan: Absolutely, absolutely.
Jenni: Now that you've been a student, and a teacher, do you view anything differently? As far as you know, is it harder than it looks? You know, do you find the difference between being a male versus a female instructor? Like, I'm very curious now that you've been on both sides? How do you view things?
DeJuan: Yeah, well, being a student and being a teacher, two very different things. But I will say that I do feel as though being a student first for as long as I was, has helped me tremendously as a teacher. And one way is that, you know, as we said, I struggled for a long time, in that water, you know, I struggled for a long time. And I had a lot to persevere, right, I had a lot to overcome, I had a lot to deal with in that regard. So I do feel as though it gave me a level of empathy with, with students that would come in, in a similar place. Right. And I think that also too, I was able to be an example for them, you know, like, when they would talk to me, after class, and they'd go, Wow, that was really great. But that was really hard. And I saw how much they were struggling, I could tell them how, how I started, you know, the fact that I started off and I was flailing around, and I was drowning every second, you know, and I, and I made light of it. But I think for many of them, it helped them to feel like oh, wow, really? And now you're teaching this? Yep. You know, like, so wait, you're telling me that I could be starting in this place. But I could get to a point where, you know, and they would go, well, you're obviously very much in shape. You're very fit. And you're teaching this, like, I could do that, too.
So it was like, absolutely, you know, so in that regard, I feel as though being a student first helped me tremendously. Now, being a teacher, one of the things that I really loved about being a teacher is having people come up to me afterwards and go, Wow, like, I didn't think that I'd be able to do that. Or I've had students where they say, you know, this or that has happened to me, whether it be like they suffered a really traumatic injury, or, you know, they're really dealing with something physically. And this is the first thing that they've actually been able to do that they feel as though Wow, maybe I can get my body back. Or maybe I can get back to some semblance of who I was, you know, before this happened to me, and to be able to be a cheerleader for them in that regard, you know, and to be able to, to encourage them and motivate them and inspire them and say to them, hey, listen, like, you know, just don't give up.
You know, I had this one woman at the JCC the Jewish community center, who had just had a really bad hip injury. And she hadn't been able to be in the water for, or do anything, for a long time. A long time. She hadn't been in class with Chris or Jenni, at that point. So she was really, really new to the format. And, you know, we were doing the class and this and that and, and at one point in the class, she looked at me and asked me to come over because I saw that she was struggling quite a bit. And she's like, you know, I don't I don't feel so I could do this. And I said to her, you know what, Listen, just don't leave. I go, even if you know, because if we're doing big scissor kicks and things like that forward scissor kicks I go, if you can just move your leg just a little bit each time you come, that's good enough for me. She goes, that doesn't bother you at all. I go, No, I go, I just don't want to see you quit, because I know how important it is. to stick with this. She goes, and from that point on, like, she and I were, we're buddy, buddy. You know, like, she would come to the class excited to see me because she knew that she had a support system. She knew she had someone who really believed in her who was willing to like, be patient with her. Right. Because I think that's what happens a lot of the time, like, people get discouraged, because they may have an instructor or, or have had an instructor that's like, Oh, you should be moving faster, or you should be doing more, you shouldn't be further along than you are like, that's not what people need. In those moments.
AJ: Or the opposite, where you have instructors who are just not paying attention to form or correcting form, and they're just flailing around, and they're not actually getting to see any of the benefits of doing it correctly.
DeJuan: That's right. No, absolutely.
Jenni: I was always excited to come back, you know, knowing that you were covering the classes, because I knew everyone would be happy they were taking care of you know, you were paying attention. You know, you have the skill set of what in my mind makes a qualified instructor besides the education, which is number one, you have the empathy, as you talked about, and you also have that perseverance of mind to really help coach and motivate people no matter what level they're coming from, or where they're at.
AJ: And DeJuan, what would you tell men specifically, you know, aquatic fitness, obviously has has, you know, a reputation as a as being something that a lot of women in particular do, and not a lot of men either take the class or teach the class, but what would you say to men out there like yourself, what are they missing?
DeJuan: Get over yourself. That's what I’d say, really, get over yourself.
Jenni: I love it.
DeJuan: Because the truth of the matter. I mean, I'm reading this book right now by this guy named David Goggins. He was a, he was a navy seal. And I'm reading his story now. And he talks about going through hell week as a navy seal. Which, for anybody who doesn't know, I mean, it's like, Navy SEAL training is like, hands down the most difficult military training that exists in the world. Right. And so you know, he's talking about everything, he's had to go through everything during Hell Week, all the all the evolutions that they go through, and the one thing that that was killing him, that he was certain he was not going to pass, were the water evolutions, all the things that they had to do in the water. For all the reasons that we've spoken about, right, water is the great equalizer.
DeJuan: No matter how strong you are, no matter how many pull ups you can do, no matter how many push ups, sit ups, how many miles you can run, when you get into that water, it's going to challenge you on a completely different level. So for any regular guy who's just like all like that's, you know, that's stuff that for old women or stuff that only girls do. Ah, again, do it, and then see if you have the same level of bravado.
Jenni: Yeah, it's true. And I would also reiterate, make sure that you're taking a class from someone who's teaching a format in which could possibly, you know, potentially challenge you. I don't, you know, I don't think if you're going to go into an Ahi Chi, or yoga based water class, you know, they might not walk out with the same perspective.
DeJuan: But you're taking something called an aqua boot camp, or something like that, you know, go for those things. Yeah, I would say go for those go after those challenges.
Jenni: Right. I mean, it's challenging, I can say. So I'm kind of curious what your perspective is DeJuan now that you have been teaching because I know when I do get men in the class, sometimes I have men that come up, and it's kind of like, biting or spitting at the chef before you eat at the restaurant where you're like, is this class going to be hard? And you just kind of sit there and you're like, there are so many things that I could choose to say, this moment. But I'm just going to be very encouraging and positive and say, it is a very challenging, great total body workout, please get in. You know, try it. If you don't like it. I won't be offended if you leave. And that's kind of my go to saying with it. But what I do tend to notice, and this is only with a couple men, 99% of the men stay but there is that one. percent of men who even when I am very polite, and professional and giving them corrections or trying to encourage them, they have a different stance taking correction and things of that are direction from a woman. And I've had a few leave, because they got really frustrated, and they couldn't do it. And no matter what I tried to correct them with or even using equipment, they just got so frustrated and would just storm off. And there's nothing you know, I can do about that. But I don't know that you have you had that in your career, have you had a male or a female student, you know, kind of bark at you or, you know, like, what has been your experience as an aquatic teacher thus far, you know,
DeJuan: I had many years where, you know, hearing you talk to me about the different experiences that you've had, you know, not only being a student of yours, but just us being friends, I was always, you know, you are always talking about the different things that you you would experience at the pool from both men and women. And I always found it to be just like, Wow, it's so interesting that, you know, people have these perspectives or that people have these ways of dealing with situations. I'm just like, what is what's the problem, but I did notice once I started teaching, that people really do treat me or treat men differently than they treat women. And it's just, you know, and that's true for men and women, the men and women treat me and treat men differently than women.
DeJuan: And, you know, so I can say, like, I haven't really had to deal with a lot of those challenges that you've had to deal with.
Jenni: But I think it's also nice to hear from a male perspective.
AJ: So for those who've listened all season long, you'll probably know that the next question is one of Jenni's all time favorite questions to ask. And I beat her to it. So DeJuan, my question to you is, what is your favorite format to teach? And what type of classes or format Do you like to take yourself?
DeJuan: I mean, for me anything that's high intensity, where we're incorporating, like kickboxing, or doing anything, we're like, jumping out of the pool, or pushing off the wall, or anything that's like, yeah, you know, those types of things? I love the most. Yeah. You know, like, that's like the, that's like the Yeah, like the word training. kind of thing for me mode. Yeah. You know, that's, that's what I like, that's what I love to do the most. And because those are the things that I'd love to do the most, those are the things that I like to teach the most, because I love seeing people get jacked up like that. You know, I love it. I love seeing people like, Oh, yeah, or like, or I love seeing people when they're on the cusp of quitting. But they find that little thing within them, whatever it is, they find that little something to just finish it off. And you can always see it when I say like, you know, especially if we're doing something that's timed. You know, if I say 15 seconds, you can just see they're like, okay, there's an end in sight, I can find, I can find that extra motivation within myself and push myself so I can end this knowing that I didn't give in. And I even say that, you know, I'm like, don't I always say finish strong to them. Like I'm yelling that to them. Finish strong. Finish strong because at the end of it, you're going to know if you gave in or not. You're going to know if you gave it all or not. That last 30 seconds is going to be what haunts you. Hmm, that's good. That's what it's gonna be. You know, so I love when I see people that are dying, but they're like, you know, I have to find the will to finish strong so I can feel proud of myself. And I love seeing that. So I would say that those are the format's that. I enjoy taking and teaching.
AJ: That's great. That's great. Dude. Do you have a favorite piece of equipment?
DeJuan: I love the drag bells.
Jenni: Oh, the Aqualogix Drag Bells.
DeJuan: Yeah, I love those. I also love the gloves because you feel like you're like Iron Man.
Jenni: Oh, the Aqquatix. Yeah, Aqquatix Combat Gloves.
DeJuan: Yeah, I love those. Yeah, those are the things I love the most.
AJ: That’s great!
Jenni: Yeah, he's really good at the kickboxing combinations I have to say because there's moments when I do a One minute free for all. And people can choose whatever they want. They can go anywhere in the pool, any piece of equipment, just don't hurt your neighbor. You know, it's not push offs, and it's not hammer drops who grab those gloves. And I would see these combinations come out and I'm like, trying to memorize them being like, Okay, I'm gonna use it was it was great because I got so much material.
DeJuan: So fun. So fun. Yeah.
Jenni: I'm curious what you think the aquatic fitness future looks like?
DeJuan: Well, I think it's going to go in a much younger direction. I mean, I know that traditionally, Aqua fitness has been seen as something for the older crowd. But especially with the format that you're teaching, and that you're developing, I feel as though it's something that could very much appeal to younger people, even people that are already in really great shape. Right? It's just another option for them or an addition for them. But I see it going in that direction. I see it going and appealing to more men, for sure. I see it appealing to younger crowds, I see it becoming something that is seen as a high intensity, low impact as you market it. You know, that high intensity, low impact. That's a huge feature of S’WET. Because you know, the fact that you know, you're going to get a very high intensity workout that's going to challenge you and that's going to really push you to the brink. But also know that you're not going to injure yourself and destroy yourself at the same time. Like that's, I mean, it's a win win.
Jenni: Yeah. key factor. Yeah, right there to a total and complete arco.
AJ: I love it. I think that's really great advice. And a really great note to end this episode on to one. DeJuan, We just want to thank you so much for spending the time with us today.
DeJuan: No, absolutely. Thank you guys. I mean, this has been great.
Jenni: Thank you so much for bringing your words of wisdom because it's really cool to hear you talk in this context.
DeJuan: Thank you guys I appreciate it.