Both my husband I are happiest when we are near the water: I love the ocean and he loves spending time at his family’s cottage that is on Calabogie lake.  All three of our boys started swimming lessons at an early age but last year we were faced with a dilemma about the lessons no longer meeting our needs.  I reached out to my ‘hive’ mind of parent friends on Facebook and was introduced to Stephanie at Aqualife Swim Academy.

For our family Aqualife provide individualized instruction in a quiet environment that meets the very different needs of all 3 of my kids.  From my four year old, who is determined to keep up with his brothers and can now swim without any flotation devices, to my son who has special needs, as well as my son who is on two competitive teams (swimming and water polo).

I’ve had the chance to get to know Stephanie since that fortuitous introduction and I am very excited to introduce all of you to her!


Tell about yourself. What do you like to do with your family? What are your favorite things to do around Ottawa? In your spare time what do you like to do?

My favorite thing to do with my family is go to the cottage. We’re around the water. We get to go boating, water skiing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing. Sitting around the fireplace. Sitting around the fire and joking. There’s no interruption like the internet or a telephone and the scenery is absolutely spectacular. There’s lots of time to sit quietly by yourself but also enjoy everybody else. Eating of course. Good food and good company and good conversations.  I love travel because I absolutely love to see new things. It’s one of the ways I feel most alive. Visiting a new place and just experiencing things for the first time and there’s so many beautiful places in this world that yeah. I just can’t wait to travel more.

I also enjoy Cross country skiing. I love beautiful scenery and hills and the cold and working hard with my body and watching my kids do the same. Sitting around having hot chocolate with them after.  I like to camp with them as well for the same reasons I like to go to the cottage but camping can also mean that we can go somewhere else or we can hang out with extended family like my sister and her kids too.

Hiking is the same sort of idea as long as it’s not too uphill. I’ve come to realize that I’m more of an easy hiker than a super trek hiker. One time we went hiking with my brother in law and my two older kids and I was amazed at how limber and quick my kids were. It’s like, every once in awhile when you hang out with your kids and you do these things you see flashes of what incredible people they are.

For example, my oldest daughter is an amazing water skier. Every once in awhile your kids show you these hidden talents and stuff and you’re totally blown away by just how incredible these human beings. To see the joy on their faces as they do these things is a great part of doing these with my kids.

I love to swim and open water swim. Sometimes my son will swim along with me. My eighteen year old son can now kick my butt in a long distance swim which is really cool I think. He’s much faster than I am.

I love to eat. I love to chat. I love to watch movies with my kids. Not really weird films but just kind of like feel good movies and listen to audio books. So, Harry Potter was our absolute favorite audio books. Artemis Foul. A couple of other ones. Just sitting in the car usually driving to Florida listening to audio books with my kids. I really enjoy that.

What are my favorite things to do around Ottawa? I love going to Gatineau park especially for the skiing. I like to skate on the Rink of Dreams. I have this thing that I want to do, while we live for Ottawa for the next five, six years, I’d like to.. hit everything. Everything from the ribs fest to Winterlude to every different kind of festival in the years that we’re here. I love to eat at the Green Door. I love reading at Chapters or just sitting in the bookstore even the Singing Pebble which is right beside the green door; just sitting there and enjoying a warm drink and a book which I haven’t done in a long time thanks to being an entrepreneur but it’s something I love to do.

I think my number one favorite thing to do around Ottawa is go to the Nordik. I’m in water. I get to rest. I get to relax. It’s warm. The food is delicious and you can just sit quietly and the scenery is beautiful. On my birthday I should go by myself.

There’s not a lot of spare time as you know being an entrepreneur. So, when I’m not hanging out with my family and not working, I’m practicing yoga. I’ve been an Astanga yogi for sixteen years now. There is an astanga yoga studio downtown so twice a week or three times a week I’m there at five-thirty a.m. practicing yoga for an hour and a half or two hours. I’ve been doing that for a long time so I love the yoga studio downtown and I love practicing.

I meditate twice a week with a group at the same studio. I go on meditation retreats. I’m trying to go to three a year and they’re ten days to just get away and balance out kind of all the busyness of my life to really center and just think of nothing and then just come back really clear on exactly what I need to be doing and what’s most important in my life and I swim. So, I also train twice a week with a masters team in Orleans called the b train and my coach is awesome. That’s a lot of fun. So, it’s good to get in the pool. I’m training to do a long distance swim with my sister. Hopefully next February. February or March. It’s the Rottnest channel crossing and it’s twenty kilometers so we’ll either do it as a duo her and I or as a group of four.



Has swimming always been your passion?

Passion. That’s such an interesting word. Swimming is kind of a gift that came to me really early in my life as quite a surprise. I really didn’t know what kind of an impact it was going to have on my entire life but a high school friend of mine asked me just to go and try it.

So, she was actually one of the most popular kids in our grade. When she asked me I was so you know like, “Oh my gosh. Yeah. I’d love to come,” and I went. I actually really really liked the coach. She was a wonderful woman with an Austrian accent. She was very serious and but with a great big smile and I loved it. I loved swimming. I was not good at it by any stretch of the imagination. I was slow and there were a lot of people there who had been swimming much longer than me but I loved being in the water and I loved the feel of the water and it was very challenging. It’s been one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever done in my life in that you really learn how to push your body.

I was quite an awkward child I guess. I was very big hearted; that’s what my mother used to say anyways. I would cry easily. That I was upset easily and if something was not just or fair that would upset me. Watching World Vision commercials just sent me into an, “Oh my God. We have to send money.” I was just really concerned with the well being of human beings. So, that didn’t go over so well in school and I tended to you know not have a lot of friends or not have really good friends.

Then coming into the teenage years I had big teeth that were really crooked and yeah. Not a lot of self esteem so when this girl asked me, I thought, “Oh, this is great.” The part I didn’t expect is that swimming did something for me slowly over time. It gave me a confidence that (that’s kind of word that people use a lot) but it’s like something changed in me over time and I went from not thinking that much of myself to doing well in the pool and being faster and becoming a competent and strong swimmer and training hard and pushing myself hard and mentally also because you have to be very mentally steady in order to keep yourself swimming at a very fast pace over a longer distance.

Then, next thing you know I was coaching and then I was a lifeguard and then I was a swim instructor and stepped into these leadership roles. It really brought out something in me that was really pretty awesome. That all linked back to just learning to swim and coming to think of myself as a swimmer. So, I guess it has been my passion, but really its just always been such a big part of me that I never really thought of it as a passion. It is more like just something that I do and it has become a part of who I am. So, I guess that’s it. I love being a swimmer.



What inspired you to start Aqua Life Swim Academy?

When I was eleven I did not have an Aqua Life and did not consider myself an athlete. Actually, everything up to eleven had been pretty tough: like a lot of young girls I just didn’t believe in myself, everyone else seemed to be so much cooler. My large teeth had grown in every which way, my curly hair was out of control and I was very skinny/scrawny and I wore my heart on my sleeve.

At twelve I joined the Hawkesbury Orca Swim Team. I loved my coach Mrs. Brockmuller and my teammates. I learned to move through the water efficiently and push myself – HARD! And then without realizing it I became an athlete – I went from barely having the wind to finish the yearly 2km cross country run to the very next year placing 15th overall.

Swimming brought me life-long friends, mental balance, self-confidence and the freedom to play in water and enjoy a rich Aqua Life.

Over the years I’ve competed, played Varsity Water polo for Queen’s University, been a triathlete, placed 2nd in the St. Agathe 5km open water swim, white water kayaked in Mexico, scuba dived in the Bahamas and every year I swim the 5km length of Lac Corbot. Last year I swam it with my 14 year old son!

I began coaching and teaching swim lessons at the age of sixteen and loved it! I thought that the next natural step was to become a high school teacher, so I did.  After 10yrs in the classroom as a drama, math and science teacher I became deeply aware that the classroom was not for me…

When I was asked to be the Aquatic Supervisor of the Hawkesbury pool for a year, I thought why not try something new. Little did I know…

It was a Saturday morning and I had jumped in the pool for an instructor. At the end of the class I brought one of the boys back to his mom and was explaining how he could work on his breast stroke kick at home. When I was done demonstrating she turned to me and said, “You love this don’t you… This is your passion… isn’t it?” I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t deny it. Then she said, “Well, it shows. You are the best damn instructor my son has ever had.” I was totally taken aback. Her comment stuck with me, and when we moved our family to Ottawa… I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to the classroom. That is when I found out that there was such thing as a private swim school! And that there are tons of them in the States and a whole bunch here in Canada. That was it! I knew I had to open my own swim school! And I did!

Then, I won a grant to start my own business and started it as a pilot project. Just me teaching at the Brookstreet Kanata and next thing you knew I had to hire more and more instructors. All because great moms said great things about us to other great moms and dads. Then, I had more and more clients and it’s just not stopped for four years. So, now we have twelve instructors and three going on four locations. So, it’s just been really amazing.

The other thing is the connection. The connection to the kids that we teach and making that one on one connection and helping them and supporting them so that they don’t think that they’re in this alone. I don’t have a checklist and I’m not waiting for them to perform something. I’m there to help them and to figure out a way to get them to where they need to be as they learn to swim.

It’s that cooperative approach where I’m as much responsible for you learning to learn to swim as you are and that we’re all part of a team with parents as well. So, that’s what inspired me to start it.



Tell us about the Aqua Life Swim Academy classes. What do parents love most about classes?

I set out to create the most effective swim classroom possible where there was a connection between kids and instructors.

The biggest thing that sets us apart is our culture, our values and our standards. Our approach ensures that our swimming lessons are safe, comfortable and you feel respected in the pool. We prioritize our students giving them the dedicated attention that they need to succeed. It’s coming back to that whole thing about watching kids and helping them in a way that helps them succeed. That’s what we’re all about. Whether we have to adapt a stroke because you have a limitation; you know your child has a limitation as far as physically they can’t move in a certain way so that’s no problem. Why shouldn’t swimming be something that’s accessible to you? So, we change the stroke so that it fits your body.

Same thing you know if somebody has an attention problem. Let’s teach them in a way that reach that student and help them be successful in learning to swim and even excel at learning to swim.

Why people love us? the connection with instructors is probably the number one thing. Parents get so attached to their instructor. They love the connection that that instructor has with their child. They care about them. I see it in my instructors all the time. They don’t want to switch nights or they don’t want to be away or they write like super long notes when they’re being replaced because they want their kids to do well. They are personally invested in watching these children progress.

I have people say to me, “You know, we’ve taken fifteen private swim lessons with the city and you did more with my child in thirty minutes than they did in those fifteen lessons.” I mean, it’s not always that way for everyone but I have heard that. That they’re really excited about the progress they’re making and that a child is not limited by their age or their ability. They’re only limited by their skills. So, wherever they’re at skill-wise, that’s where we take them and then we grow them from that place. The dedication to supporting our students.



What do kids love about Aqua Life Swim Academy classes?

The biggest thing that comes to me is that they’re not alone in the learning process. So, a lot of times you know you feel kind of isolated when you’re learning. You feel like you’re responsible for what has to be done and you’ve got to figure it out and especially swimming. It can be daunting.  I’ve heard of so many sad stories of children who drop out of swimming lessons because they feel unsuccessful every time they fail Crocodile. It’s really not about the levels and it’s not about report cards and it’s not about stickers. It’s about just simply learning to swim. This way you know when you sign up with an instructor you have that instructor’s attention and you can really figure it out together how to get to the proficiency you’d like to achieve. You’re not in it alone and you are not a failure, you are just learning.


Water safety is often at the forefront of parent’s mind. What advice do you have to help them keep their children, big and small, safe around the water?

As far as water safety is concerned the number one is watch your kids. So, you can’t hand this responsibility over to someone else unless you really trust their judgement and you trust that they’re going to be focused on watching your kids in and around the water. You really have to watch them. Strange things happen in the water even to good swimmers. It’s important that you follow basic rules like don’t swim alone. If your child doesn’t know how to swim stay within arms reach. Same thing applies for scenarios like when your children go to birthday parties and stuff. You want to know that they’re being supervised around that pool at all times.

Take extra precautions. If you own a pool do everything you can to make sure that it’s safe. Everything from putting out a special tarp that ensures your kids can’t fall into the pool to gates, self-closing doors… to alarms if a child falls in the pool.  Do whatever you can to keep them safe.

Have them learn to swim. If you have kids that are prone to jumping in the pool without a care in the world, don’t try to instill fear in them and don’t say, “Oh my God. You’re going to die. Don’t go near the water.” Just take the initiative and teach them how to swim.

And I think the number one thing is wear a life jacket when you go boating. You must be a good example. You just have to because it’s the way that your kids learn what is acceptable and what makes sense whenever you’re in a watercraft. You just wear your life jacket. It’s just what you do. If that’s not a good enough reason then the second best reason to wear a life jacket is not to help you get back to the shore, but to make you a viable rescuer. What good are you if you’re not wearing a life jacket and someone else needs help. I can tell you right now I’m a strong swimmer and have a lot of skills in the water but if someone, especially a large person, needs help or if I have to go a long distance carrying someone else it is very likely I will NOT be capable of rescuing them.



What’s the most rewarding part about teaching?

Well, the part that keeps me coming back all the time is when a student learns something new and you see that look in their eyes like, “I did it. Oh my gosh I did it.” This is also why I really love teaching adults is it’s something that they’ve been unable to do or afraid of doing their entire life and just seeing that absolute joy in their eyes and in their face and the surprise look that they have when they learn to do something new in the pool is wonderful to watch and highly addictive.

Thank you Stephanie for taking the time to answer my questions and for helping my children learn and love to swim!

Want to learn more about Aqualife Swim Academy? Click on these links!

What Makes Aqualife Different

And About the Origins of the Aqua Life