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That's Aquatic Supervisor Fiona. Nanke's first response when asked to reflect on healthy living successes in Didsbury. The Didsbury Aquatic Centre has always ...


Didsbury creates healthy opportunities, wet and dry “It is fantastic to see the youth in our community back in the pool!” That’s Aquatic Supervisor Fiona Nanke’s first response when asked to reflect on healthy living successes in Didsbury. The Didsbury Aquatic Centre has always had a summer swim club, but it’s against the rules for them to compete on a swim team in winter. Red Cross lessons, despite their excellence, weren’t pulling teens into the pool either. So Fiona and the lifeguards asked teens and their coach what would. “Water sports,” they were told. A senior lifeguard offered to take that challenge on, the Town found some money for water polo nets and balls, and now kids are having a blast. Besides water polo, they’re trying out underwater hockey, boogie boarding – even synchronized swimming when no guys show up. And all those Red Cross swimming skills are being slipped in with the fun, so kids are learning fundamental skills after all. The response has been phenomenal, Fiona says.

“We went from having maybe two to six teenagers using our facility on a weekly basis to 30 showing up for this program twice a week.” When kids as young as 8

wanted to get in on the action, the group split into two time slots to give the shorter set a fighting chance.

Why is it working? “I think it is the balance between having something fun for them to do and an individual who is full of energy and loves being there,” Fiona says. “Plus the program is drop-in rather than a course you have to attend. Kids are super busy, so making it really flexible is the key.”

“I think the biggest issue all facilities face is engaging the youth of the community. What worked in the past may not work now and may never work again. Planning and carrying out an activity that is healthy and engaging while getting more youth into your facilities is a huge undertaking.” Fiona Nanke Didsbury That success is part of a bigger story, Fiona adds – a more flexible attitude about pulling people into being active. Adults are benefitting, too. Evening pool schedules have been juggled so that either an aquafit or and aqualite class runs at the same time every weekday morning, with the same instructor. Participation has more than doubled, with swarms of people on deck every morning, itching to get into the water, Fiona says. “They have nothing but great things to say and love the consistency in time and instructor.” Didsbury also extended its reach with several free events that hold promise to become annual traditions. A bike race attracted 50 people of all ages for a 5-km loop they could choose to do twice, with prizes courtesy of a local gym. A fun run brought out a hardy dozen and then some, despite soggy weather. A free swim featured just-for-fun competitions and prizes. A skate took folks inside the arena in early fall to celebrate the return of the ice with relays, cocoa, music and fun.

In each case, ChooseWell information and prizes expanded what could be done within the Town’s budget. The brand also proved a good marketing tool, Fiona says. “When Choosewell was around before, our community won an award. So people knew about it – we used that as promotion.” As a first-time ChooseWell Champion, Fiona made a conscious decision to focus on fitness in 2011 rather than spread her efforts too thin. Even so, healthy eating made its way into Didsbury’s daycamps. “We brought in all those handouts for planning healthy meals with families, and kids were required to choose healthy snacks first,” Fiona says. “Now the kids love apples, and they eat granola bars, too.”

Didsbury in Brief Population Location


ChooseWell Team Recognition

Town of Didsbury

Top Tip

Don’t let low participation stop you from creating more community events; you are still making a difference in some people’s lives


[email protected], 403335-7369

Halfway between Calgary and Red Deer, in the foothills of the Rockies Creating Healthy Opportunities


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