COVID Career Change: New opportunities in emotional times for fitness trainer

Chia Han Keong
·7-min read
Fitness instructor Vikki Jonied. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
Aqua fitness instructor Vikki Jonied. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

Years from now, the history of the 21st century will be divided into two eras: before COVID-19, and after COVID-19. But as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy, Singaporeans are not standing still. From adapting to new regulations to finding entirely new trades, they are innovating and finding new ways to make a living. In the second of this short series, Yahoo News Singapore speaks to a veteran fitness instructor who has found new work opportunities by thinking out of the box.

Veteran trainer specialising in aqua fitness

Vikki Jonied is a bundle of energy as she leads a group of five middle-aged women on a vigorous session of Aqua Drum Vibes workout at the Pasir Ris Sports Centre swimming pool on Mondays.

Demonstrating the movements with a chair on poolside while her students did the same in the pool, she keeps her intensity and enthusiasm throughout the 20-minute workout, even as her class size has become much smaller amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past 25 years, the 44-year-old has built a steady career as a fitness instructor in Singapore. She specialises in aquatic fitness – aerobic exercises in water – and has actively attended overseas conferences and obtained proper certifications to improve her chosen field of expertise.

The single mother of three young adults – aged between 19 and 22 – teaches about four aquatic fitness classes per day, and used to have as many as 30 students in each class. Coupled with additional work as a personal trainer, and Jonied could take six to eight fitness sessions daily.

“My work allows me a lot of flexibility in scheduling, so I can take some classes in the morning, go back home to attend to my kids, and then go back in the evenings for more classes,” she told Yahoo News Singapore in an interview at the Pasir Ris Sports Centre on 5 October.

“And you don’t have to be a jack of all trades in the fitness industry, you just need to focus on one programme that you can bring health benefits to those that train under you. I chose to focus on aqua fitness because it can help a wide group of people – be it seniors or the young, male or female.”

Fitness instructor Vikki Jonied. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
Aqua fitness trainer Vikki Jonied leading her Aqua Drum Vibes class at Pasir Ris Sports Centre. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

Income dropped by 60 per cent during circuit breaker

Yet, Jonied’s passion in aqua fitness was put under severe pressure when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Singapore’s shores in the early months of this year.

As the coronavirus spread rapidly, senior citizens were deemed as one of the major vulnerable groups who are most susceptible to contract the disease. Social activities for this group of residents, including fitness classes, were told to shut down in March.

It was a massive blow to Jonied, as her monthly income dipped sharply by as much as 60 per cent when her classes for seniors were told to close. Then came the circuit-breaker period in April, and her income took another hit when she could not conduct her personal fitness training with her clients.

Faced with a long spell of uncertainty ahead, Jonied admitted there were moments of intense depression and despair.

“That usually happened when I looked at my bank account,” she recalled. “When you have to dip into your hard-earned savings just to maintain the family, it’s never a nice feeling.”

Inspiration found in chairs

Yet amid those depths, Jonied’s instinct to rise up and try overcoming her setback kicked in.

“Maybe it’s my background as an athlete, but I always believe that there is no point being depressed for too long. You have to get up on your feet and work your way out of a problem,” she said.

“Since everyone was going online when their workplaces got shut down, I began looking at my aqua exercises and thinking of how to adapt them outside of the pool.”

(PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore
Aqua fitness trainer Vikki Jonied leading her Aqua Drum Vibes class at Pasir Ris Sports Centre. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

Her solution: chairs.

By sitting on a chair and lifting her legs, Jonied found that she could design exercises without them impacting the limb joints – the same basis that make her aqua exercises be suitable for seniors.

Inspired, she began adapting her Aqua Tabata exercises – high-intensity interval training originally developed by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata and adapted for pools – on chairs at her home, writing down each step and planning each routine’s duration and intensity.

Once she had enough “Chair Tabata” exercises ready, Jonied contacted her close friend and fellow Aqua Tabata trainer Audrey Lim to rehearse together for online classes. Then, they contacted their former students to join them on this new workout online during the circuit breaker period.

Coping with family situation

Slowly, the duo’s online class sizes grew, and both were eventually confident enough to conduct lessons on their own. Jonied was also contacted by her manager at Bedok Sports Centre to put up her online exercises on the ActiveSG Circle digital platform for wider audience exposure.

But while her online “venture” was starting to take off, a stressful family situation arose. Her daughter Iffa, 20, is a non-verbal special-needs person and was finding it difficult to adjust to the family being at home at all times during the circuit breaker.

“She got overwhelmed when my sons and I were at home 24/7 during that period, and would act out in many ways,” Jonied recalled. “Her home therapy sessions were also suspended, because the therapist could not make home visits then. So whenever she threw tantrums, it was very stressful for all of us at home.”

Again, she took proactive action – she began taking online sports massage courses so that she could give Iffa relaxing rubs to calm her down. She also tried to let her daughter do some simple exercises and activities to work her cognitive and motor skills.

Gradually, Iffa responded, and the tantrums eased, much to Jonied’s relief. She began recording videos of her activities with her daughter and shared them online with caregivers or parents who might be in similar situations during the circuit breaker.

“The videos were quite popular, and seeing the positive comments by other caregivers was probably the most memorable thing for me during the circuit breaker,” she said.

She has since volunteered to host an online self-care and fitness workshop for caregivers from Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds), and there are plans for more collaborations in the future.

Aqua fitness trainer Vikki Jonied leading her Aqua Drum Vibes class at Pasir Ris Sports Centre. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
Aqua fitness trainer Vikki Jonied leading her Aqua Drum Vibes class at Pasir Ris Sports Centre. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

Learning to move on from emotional times

With Singapore gradually resuming activities as it reopens from the two-month circuit breaker, Jonied was able resume her aqua fitness classes – although the class size is now capped at only five students.

She continues to conduct online Chair Tabata classes, and is optimistic that she can find more work opportunities with her sports massage knowledge, as well as with special-needs organisations.

“You learn to be humble during this pandemic. Whatever income I get, I’m grateful,” she said.

“In a way, if it wasn’t for COVID, I wouldn’t be forced to think out of the box and come up with Chair Tabata and those home videos with my daughter. Hopefully those can be new avenues for me in the future.

“Of course those were emotional times for me and everyone in my family. But the important thing for me was not to stay down for too long, and always try and move on. You got to look on the bright side, however far it may be.”

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