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How Aquatic Fitness Helped Save Her Life



Sharlie Peterson is the creator of Shockwave Aqua Fitness in Topeka, Kansas. She has been an aquatic fitness instructor since 2017 and is currently teaching at Shawnee County Parks & Rec and GreatLIFE Fitness Facilities, where she also serves as the Group Fitness Coordinator.


After being diagnosed with a rare stomach disease, Sharlie turned to aqua fitness and lost tremendous weight, but also gained incredible clarity to battle issues with self-esteem and depression.



As you'll hear in the below episode, Sharlie found hope and inspiration in her own journey with aquatic fitness.

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Full Transcript:

Jenni Lynn: Joining us today is Sharlie Peterson. She is the creator and master trainer of Shockwave Aqua Fitness in Topeka, Kansas. Sharlie has been an aquatic fitness instructor since 2017, and is currently teaching and training at Shawnee County Parks and Rec and Great Life Fitness facilities, where she is also serving as the group fitness coordinator. I'm really looking forward to this interview because Sharlie and I share the same passion and mission for the aqua fitness industry - to build an army of wave warriors working to change the perception of what water fitness can do for us all. Just one class at a time. Sharlie, welcome to the program.


Sharlie: Thank you. I'm so excited to finally be talking to you.


Jenni Lynn: It's happening, we made it happen!


AJ: Hi, Sharlie!


Jenni Lynn: I've been looking forward to this because we follow you on social media and everything you post is always so engaging. So I'm looking forward to our conversation today.


Sharlie: Me too. I can't wait.


AJ: So why don't we start with where you are? Where are you actually calling from? And how are things going with the current pandemic that we're all up against?


Sharlie: So I am in Topeka, Kansas. I moved here from Wichita, Kansas, about a year and a half ago. Now we have actually been fortunate with the summer classes during the pandemic, to be able to have them at a regular capacity because the outdoor pool is huge. And you can spread out. It can fit about 80 people comfortably for a class while still maintaining social distance. So I've been one of the few unfortunate instructors that have still been able to teach. And the way that the outdoor pools are run right now with COVID is that you can have 50% building capacity, which for our north pool, which is where I mainly taught at, that's over 1000 people still. So yeah, and now I'm transitioning into the indoor pools where it's a little bit more intimate, which is a little bit more of a challenge, because it's a smaller pool. But I've just started telling everyone like if you do not feel comfortable being more confined and next to people, I completely get it. But I give them a deep water option too, because the indoor pools have a deep end. And so now a lot of my people are discovering that you can get a deep water workout and still get an incredible workout, which is awesome.


Jenni Lynn: Yeah you can, with belt on. And you have 360 degrees of resistance. Oh, boy.


Sharlie: Yeah. Oh, I know. And a few of them are even actually doing it completely suspended without the belts. And I'm like, dude, more power to you. That is awesome.


Jenni Lynn: Sounds dangerous. Hopefully their form is somewhat on!


Sharlie: That's what I'm working on. I'm working on it. Yeah, that's difficult.


Jenni Lynn: I know. I completely understand. All of us have experienced the ones that are like, it's harder without the belt. And I'm just like, BooBoo, it just doesn't look right. But you can can just keep struggling because at least you're working.


Sharlie: Right. And my favorite is when they don't have the belt and then we do a move with our arms are somewhat out of the water and I just watch them sink. Like come back up. Come on.


Jenni Lynn: Guilty pleasure of a water instructor. You're like, how long can they go down for? Before I have to say something?


Sharlie: Exactly. That's happening.


Jenni Lynn: But it sounds like I mean, what's really cool about this is that you're actually exposing people you know. I'm trying to take a positive spin on the pandemic here, but you're you're almost forced to expose people to something that they haven't tried before. Using the deep end and spacing, you know, spacing out for social distancing. You're getting to educate people about more things aquatic.


Sharlie: Yes, and you know, not only the deep end as well but we will keep a few lap lanes in. And for the people that are really uncomfortable right now, because you do have those, and it's perfectly fine, I get it. But I will tell a lot of the people that are really unsure about being that confined, if you want to go on the other side of one of the lap lanes, that's perfectly fine as well. And that kind of eases them right away, knowing that they kind of have their own little space back there, and they're still able to work out. Yeah. So it's been kind of a challenge, but also really rewarding on finding new ways that people can work out in the water. Because, you know, like a lot of the land classes here right now, they're just not thriving, unfortunately. So I'm very glad that, you know, thinking of new ways that we can spread people out in the water and still have the fun and effective class time, which is great.


Jenni Lynn: That is really cool. You said it well, you are part of the fortunate few that get to do, you know, this both out and indoor, which is absolutely amazing. So, speaking of, I know you obviously have your presence on social media with aquatic fitness. But what is your background? How did you find yourself becoming involved with aquatic fitness?


Sharlie: I owe all of that actually to my mom. She has been teaching, oh, gosh, since either 2012 or 2013. She started teaching after she started taking aquatic classes for her own health. And they needed more instructors. And she was just kind of thrown into it. But she developed her own programs. And she kept asking me to come and I was like, I hate saying this, but I had that stereotype in my mind of well, it's for old people. I think I'm good. Yeah. But then, you know, in 2016, she finally got me to try a class. And that's when I was in a really bad headspace myself, because of the stomach disease I have it was leading to really dark depression and an eating disorder. And the minute that I got in the water and tried the class and discovered that it was a super powerful workout, I automatically fell in love with it. And so my mom is a big advocate for it. She kind of saved my life in more ways than one because she got me active again. And she showed me what the water could do. And then from there, it was almost something immediately that I knew that I wanted to teach. And so, you know, four months later, after taking the classes, the group coordinator at the time at the facility where I was at, she said, Hey, I think you have the personality to teach. Do you want to teach? I was like, yeah, that's awesome. So it's been a journey. And I just, I have my mom to thank for it 100%


Jenni Lynn: Wow.


AJ: I love that.


Jenni Lynn: Touching on that, I know you've posted a little bit about your incredible physical transformation. I'm curious if you wouldn't mind sharing your journey of how, you know, you've kind of come through these medical stomach issues and kind of having such incredible results, and seeing the incredible process you've gone through.


Sharlie: Sure. So back in, I believe it was 2013 as well, I was diagnosed with a stomach disease. It's called gastroparesis. It's basically where your stomach muscles do not work and you do not digest food on your own very well. And I am the 4% with an already rare stomach disease that actually gains weight from it rather than loses. So I gained weight very rapidly. And that led to depression because it's not quite a boost to your self esteem. And I also unfortunately developed an eating addiction to food and so that on top of gaining weight with a stomach disease was really really rough. And then you know my mom in 2016, she finally said, you've got to do something because I know that your stomach disease is weighing you down but you can also help yourself. And so I started. Once I started off with fitness and getting fit again it's kind of been a yo yo thing with me because I can flare up overnight and gain six pounds overnight if I have a gastroenteritis flare up.


Jenni Lynn: My gosh.


Sharlie: Yeah, it's super fun. But when COVID first started while a lot of people ended up gaining weight during that period, my mom and I actually started getting active together and going on walks and I was shooting videos for my water people. Stuff that they can do on land that was gentle on their joints. And I've kept that up and I've kept up better eating habits. I mean, I stumbled here and there, but since March I think all in all right now I've lost 49 pounds.


AJ: Wow.


Sharlie: Yeah, that's with a stomach disease still fighting against me. But, I mean, yeah, being active, and you know, changing your eating habits, because that's the more important part actually. It really, really saved my life along with the aquatic portion. So that's why I always tell people that, you know, getting into aqua fitness has literally saved my life in more ways than one. Because I'm happier, I'm not just laying in bed all day, sad. So yeah, it's been quite a journey.


Jenni Lynn: That is, I mean, that's unbelievable. I really did not know much about this disease. And hearing you talk about it, I'm just curious how many other people are, you know, suffering in silence, so to speak, you know, with this sort of condition or similar types of conditions?


Sharlie: Mm hmm. Right. And I actually have two people that take my class where I was, at the end of one of my classes this summer, I told them a little bit about it, because I do get the questions from people and they don't mean anything by it. But they're like, you know, you're go-go-go, why aren't you a stick fixture basically? And so I told them about my journey, and it made a few of them come forward and say, Hey, I actually have this too, or I have something like it such as Crohn's disease, or whatever. And you're making me feel better about myself and showing me that I can do this. So it's so gratifying. And I didn't want to open up for a while just because I was embarrassed and everything, but I'm finding the more that I share, the more inspires even that one person to get up and keep going.


Jenni Lynn: Yeah.


AJ: It does. And you also touched on a very important topic that we sometimes overlook very easily, which is mental health. You know, your physical health, your weight, all of that is is something that you actively work towards and fight against. But your mental health, you mentioned depression, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to do anything. And you know, that was my experience. I was working 80-hour weeks, eating three meals a day at my desk, you know, and when I worked in New York City at a law firm, I barely saw sunlight, and I was depressed, like, you know, I didn't feel sad, but my body was depressed, and I gained weight. And I'm short in stature. And all of my weight goes right to my stomach. And it was just something that I, once I experienced it for the first time I was like, resistant, more resistant than anything else, because I hate working out and I hate the gym. So when Jenni would be like, you should come to the gym and workout with me. And I'd be like, No, thank you, and No, thank you. Like, you should try the water. And I'm like, Okay, I will do one class to get you off my back. One class, one class, you know, once a week became two classes a week then became three classes a week. And by the end of a couple of months, I'd say by the end of the year, I lost a ton of weight. But beyond the actual weight loss and strength gaining that I got was that mental lift that like, Oh my god, I feel connected to an element. And I think that's what it is. It's like when you're out in nature, you're walking, you know, you mentioned your nature walks, you're connecting with nature, you're connecting with the elements of the earth, and water is a primary element. And so when we're in it, I think it really does do something to our mental health and in a good way.


Sharlie: 100% and that's like, the quote that I always tell people is I when I was depressed, I didn't like the darkness. But I was comfortable there. It became comfortable. And you don't even realize it until you start to get yourself out a lot of times, so and I'm so glad I'm not comfortable anymore. And that's, that's awesome for you too.


AJ: Aww. So correct me if I'm wrong, you and Jenni have never met personally?


Jenni Lynn: No, not yet. It was supposed to happen this year.


AJ: I know. IAFC? Was it in Daytona that we were all supposed to meet up?


Sharlie: Yep. And I had actually on top of the conference, I had actually signed up for one of her special workshops. So so excited.


AJ: Oh, shoot.


Jenni Lynn: Oh, the HydroRevolution?


Sharlie: Yes.


Jenni Lynn: I love that. Oh my gosh, Katrien and I had such a great time and Chris working on that program.


AJ: Yeah, that was great. So how did you actually remember connecting with Jenni? How did you find out about, you know, Jenni Lynn Fitness or S'WET?


Sharlie: Um, I totally stalked her. So I started probably in 2018, I came across the fit motivation, videos, just a small little clip ones that are on YouTube. Hmm. And I noticed that Jenny Lynn was featured for, you know, sweat and I her stuck out to me so much, because it was more of a challenge to me and stuff that I was looking at incorporating into my own workouts. And so I started watching those and taking notes. And then I found her page on Instagram. And I, I literally, when I say I stopped her, I just went back through all the posts, and I was so intrigued and amazed at all the equipment she used. And so and I finally sent her I followed her and then I remember she followed me back and I literally had a fan girl moment. To the point I posted it on my Facebook, I was like, Jenny Lynn followed me. And when I finally got up the bravery to I think add you as a friend on Facebook. And then we just started kind of talking back and forth. You've been nice enough to give me advice over things when I need it. Because I'm still very new to this.


Jenni Lynn: I mean, but I have to say like your go get them attitude is so infectious. And I absolutely love it. Especially once I was like who is this? Sharlie? Oh, she's really liking my stuff. Okay, so I just started been stalking you and following you. I was like, Who is she? I need to know more about this girl. And I was seeing your stuff on Instagram and Facebook. I was like, Oh no, she's not playing around. Like she's making waves like these are warriors. And it was super cool to connect. Because I know I sought out a lot of mentors and people in the industry and I just I love having that feeling. But also just seeing your style and flair on it because everyone takes away something from other people. Yeah. And it's it's amazing to have that connection. And I also Oh, that's right, I remember as I'm sitting here at my desk, staring at it the the wooden plaques that you I don't know if you create or help create with the Isn't it like you hook it up with like electricity, and then it burns? Yeah, well, I don't even know. But I was like fascinated with it. Once I saw these art pieces coming to life on your website, and I was just like, this girl does so many different things.


Sharlie: So fascinated by it. But you I mean, you'll have to explain it to our listeners because I am not doing it justice because you create these beautiful plaques it was lightning woodburning where you take the generator out of a microwave, and you hook it up to some wires, and kind of like you hook up a car battery almost. And you put baking soda down on the wood. And as soon as you hit the gas on those wires, it creates this beautiful lightning Woodburn and you can kind of direct it where you want the burn to go. You can make them deep burns. And right now we're actually getting into experimenting with this is where I come in where I add color to the burns and I helped design logos like I made you the sweat bootcamp logo.


Jenni Lynn: Oh my gosh, it's my all time favorite. And I know you saw pictures of me just like hugging it. It's this beautiful round plaque that says sweat by jennylyn fitness and it has the birthmarks there's blue in it. The teardrop is blue. It's just I love it so much. It brings me so much inspiration. I can't thank you enough. And him enough for creating it. It's Oh, my favorite. It hangs it hangs above her desk at home. Yes. And for anyone who's listening who's like, why are we talking about wooden Aqua? This pandemic has forced people to like throw themselves into their hobbies. And I have to say this was something that I was like, wow, this is something it's so cool. First of all, it's cool to watch. It's cool to see how it came together. But then when you see the end product, you're like, Oh my god, this is this is something really inspirational and you know, focused.


Sharlie: Yeah, it just took off. It's become one of our favorite things to do. And so now you know, we have people that saw Jenny's plaque. I've already had messages from people on that as well. Like, can you do this for me and we're happy to like we love doing it. So I mean, if there's any other mermaids out there that want something for their business or whatever, you know, we're happy to work with you and get something done just because it makes us happy being able to burn stuff.


Jenni Lynn: I love fire so much. I mean, I love water more than anything but I have to say fire and water go really well together. I mean it's kind


Sharlie: Like he was talking about, it's another one of those elements. So there you go, exactly.


Jenni Lynn: We're gonna share a photo of the final product, obviously, on your blog, so that people can can visually understand what what we're talking about. Okay, it's so cool. It's so cool.


Sharlie: Next time, I want to make you another one, because after I gave you that one, I actually discovered glitter. So one of these times, I'm going to have to make you something with glitter in it, because I've gone crazy with glitter.


Jenni Lynn: I can never be enough glitter, there can never be enough glitter. But move moving back to the waves we were just creating. Besides that would work. And we will put links for our listeners of how to like contact you and him to get the information regarding nap. But tell us a little bit more about your current brand in your business, you know, kind of what your hopes and dreams are for it, were you were you taking Shockwave?


Sharlie: Okay, so I created Shockwave Aqua fitness because I've noticed the places that I've taught in Kansas so far when I come across other instructors, they're just doing a basic workout routine with their class where they're reading down a list of exercises. And it's the same class every time. And it's simply because they don't know that places, you know, such as the AEA and other training facilities and such are out there for them. So and what a lot of people don't know about me is when I was certified, the way that I got certified, was an in house certification training at the gym I worked at. And she sat me down for I think an hour and went over this training manual with me that basically just taught you the principles of water. And that was it, it was okay, here you go. So I was literally put out kind of in the deep end to sink or swim. And the more that I've talked to instructors around here, they're telling me the same thing. So I came up with Shockwave after I developed strong and effective hit workouts and boot camp workouts and a class that I call h2o go which is nonstop cardio and strength training. And so I want people to be able to get a basic understanding of these three different formats. And you know, I'm nowhere on a level of a or anything like that I just this is more of for people just starting out, or that just want to learn a little bit more, it teaches you about that. And eventually, I would like to expand this so that I can get this accredited, which I'm working on right now. Good. I actually have two instructors that now work for Shockwave and are helping me with this. And we're just trying to develop a really strong program that we can share with Kansas and eventually throughout the Midwest as well. That is the overall goal is to get this program like off the ground and get really strong and effective instructors behind it.


Jenni Lynn: Awesome.I love that.


AJ: Yeah, that's great.


Sharlie: Thanks. Because I just really don't want people like it really was a rough start for me. Because the first class I ever had, it was it's my class called Aqua jam, which I still teach. But it started out just this basic like water dance class because my brain choreographs moves to the beat of the music just naturally. And so I did that. But the feedback I was getting, they're like, well, it's fun, but it's easy. And so that is actually at the time where, you know, I went online and started discovering your videos and other videos because I had to teach myself how to make more effective classes. And I, I don't want new instructors to be shoved into something that they don't understand. I want them to be confident in what they're teaching. And it's not just teaching it's you know, how to build your brand and yourself as an instructor. And so that's what I want to do. I just want to help other instructors.


Jenni Lynn: That's great. I mean, it's all it's all a journey of helping others. That's how we become better.


AJ: Yeah, we're all in this together. You know, and something that you said is actually interesting. We've we've noticed as we've been talking with guests all over the world, really, that a lot of people kind of found themselves thrown in to Aqua fitness, and and kind of had to start with with little to no education. And then slowly, you know, obviously train and learn. And it seems to me that like obviously, with the AIA being the gold standard for the certification process, it's it's something where, you know, you you go through the process And you learn all the principles and whatnot. And then you can take your learning in all these different certification programs and broaden and create your own brand, which is really where, you know, I think a lot of water instructors are heading right now it's the future for aquatic fitness is for these people to take everything that they've learned from various certification programs and build intense workouts, build different types of workouts for different types of populations, and not just offer the standard, you know, old school water workouts that that, you know, just are not in demand the same way they they were 1520 years ago.


Sharlie: Exactly. And you know, the classes are changing too, because, you know, I've heard on the podcast and several other places where, unfortunately, the stereotype rock with fitness is you can come and socialize. And it's socializing while you're kind of getting a workout. And I'm thankful that in my classes and that in other instructors classes that I'm helping with, you know, they're they're combating that talking by making them actually focus on the workout and having them discover that, wow, I can really get a true workout in if I shut my mouth. So. So yeah, that's been really cool to see as well.


AJ: Yeah. And God, Jenni, that's like, what was Katy? Katy Coffey, we had her on on an episode. And she shared she has two rules that she tells people, Jenni, do you remember what they were?


Jenni: Well, I thought I think the thing The first one is, your feet need to move faster than your mouth? Yep. And then your hair will get wet and your hair right. That's right, your hair will get wet. That's right.


Sharlie: Yeah.


Jenni Lynn: That's so funny. You just said that AJ because Ashley actually put her on the spot at one of our ABA virtual workshops. It was like Katy, remind us what your rule is about talking. Right there she was on it. It was it was really funny, but it's true. And you know what you learn that through taking certification programs like sweat, the sweat cert, like we're gonna teach people like, guess what? You want to stop the talking in your classes, here's how you do it, you make them use their their lung capacity for something else other than chitchat.


Sharlie: The funny thing is that this summer, what I started telling people is, um, like, it's called Aqua fitness, not mouth fitness, now, and now they want my people like their t shirts. And now they want that on a shirt. So I'm like, hey, if it'll help people not talk? Cool. There you go.


Jenni Lynn: It's so true. And just for the record, you know, obviously, there is something very beneficial to the socialization that comes with Aqua fitness. And I, I don't mean to demean those who, you know, come to it for, for that element and that element alone. But there are also people who show up to work out to really treat this like you would any high intensity interval training, and you need to be able to offer that as well. So I'm very curious with Shockwave and everything you have coming to fruition, so to speak, what Where do you see yourself in the future about you maybe even 510 years from now, what is your goal?


Sharlie: I'm basically just expanding not only, you know, not only taking Shockwave further and further out, but expanding on what I know, you know, once COVID is over, I'm dying to learn in person from other instructors, so that I can just continue to build and learn new things. I discovered that teaching and training, aquatic fitness is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. One goal I actually have for myself, is to actually at some point be featured on fit motivation. Yes, good goal. Yeah, I would love to do that. And just to get more exposure to the programs that we do with Shockwave, and, you know, just reach more people with it. I just want to keep going, keep learning, and doing all I can to be a part of this community and making it you know, absolutely amazing. So that's, that's pretty much my goal right now is just to keep moving forward and to keep learning.


Jenni Lynn: I love it that those are great goals to have.


Sharlie: Sure.


Jenni Lynn: And so, on that note, what is one piece of advice that you would give someone who maybe wants to follow in your footsteps either getting involved in group and aquatic fitness or even like the business side, you know, whether it's land or water, what's some advice that you would give, give someone


Sharlie: I you know, I would just say, do your research, if this is something that you want to get into, don't just say, you know, okay, I've been Got this, do the research on the field exactly of what you want to go in, make sure that it's absolutely something that you want to go into. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. I know a lot of people think that, you know, receiving help is like a handout and you're too embarrassed to do it. But I wouldn't be at the level that I'm at right now, if I wouldn't have, you know, reached out to people, like you and to Katie, and, you know, even my mom asking for advice, and, you know, continuing to learn. So I would just say, go into it open, willing to learn, and be willing to accept, you know, criticism if it's needed, because it's good criticism, it's feedback. So just, you know, stay positive in it. Make as many contacts as you can learn about it as much as you can. And definitely, like, you know, we've talked through the AEA, I even I even tell my Shockwave people a is the standard look into them, reach out to them get started with them and then you know, you will grow and learn and continue to learn along the way for sure.


Jenni Lynn: Absolutely.


AJ: I love that. That's a very beautiful note for us to to wrap up on because I do think continuing the education is key, and 100% Yeah, so why don't you share a little bit about where people can find you.


Sharlie: I'm probably the most active on Facebook. I have a Facebook page it's if you just search for Shockwave Aqua Fitness with Sharlie I had that should pop up for you right away. I post daily on there. And then I also have a website And that has my class schedules on it about Shockwave and it also has info and registration for the certifications that we have through Shockwave. And then I'm also on Instagram. It is ShockwaveFit with Sharlie. So yeah, that's everywhere. I am in the social media area.


Jenni Lynn: Excellent. And there are lots of great posts including the the woodworking posts that we were talking about earlier in the episode. So we encourage you guys please go. Go find Sharlie. Reach out to her for inspiration and motivation and keep educating and keep keep making waves.


Sharlie: Just keep swimming. Just kidding.


Jenni Lynn: I love it. We're finally thank you so much for joining us today. This was such a great interview.


Sharlie: It's been a blast.

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