PERSPECTIVE: Jennifer Schembri-Portelli, aka JSP

For Australian Fitness Network’s Author of the Year 2015, Four P’s have driven her career success...

Being honoured as Network’s Author of the Year was a proud moment for me: well, actually it was more like a double fist air punch combined with a giant leap!

It’s really cool to be rewarded and recognised for doing something you love – especially as I was the remotest thing from ‘cool’ growing up.

My parents migrated from Malta in 1950 – for fitness professionals born in the 1990s, that was just after the extinction of the dinosaurs…

I attended a ‘good’ school, alongside kids with surnames like Smith, O’Neill and Ferguson. When I rocked up to class on the first day each year I was automatically placed into ‘special ed’ class. I had the ‘weird foreign’ name and that seemed to fit the criteria way back in 1960s Australia.

To be honest, it was fun, it was easy and it allowed me more time to muck around. The funny thing was that I could actually read and write well, but if the educational institution thought I couldn’t, I was happy to play along.

So what has been my motivation to take me from ‘special ed’ to Network Author of the Year? Passion, purpose, practise and persistence: passion for aqua activity, purpose in turning people onto the benefits of aqua, practising what I preach and persistence in attracting the kudos aqua rightly deserves via education and publications.

Learning, exploring, creating and sharing aqua information gives me great satisfaction. It’s one of my life goals to enlighten government departments, industry bodies, community members and fitness gurus about the benefits of exercising in water.

I practised planning what I wanted to say, reading what others said and how they said it. I tried writing, just a few lines at first, and then started reviewing and editing what I’d come up with. I also made a commitment to attend as many workshops as I could in order to learn from others – and how others got their message across. It was a very private journey in the early stages – now it’s deliberately public as I strive to share my Four P’s.

I started working in aqua following my role as a PE teacher; with a young family I was looking for something that allowed me to be physically active and provided flexibility with time commitments. That was back in the ‘80s when aqua leaders were told to focus on gentle water exercise and gaining your qualification was skill set based.

There were lots of aqua instructors then, we networked and shared our experiences in our lycra, headbands and leg warmers. By the 1990s our world experienced turbulent waters. The industry began exploring options that were more land-based and aqua lost its water focus. A land-based certificate became a pre-requisite before taking the aqua training option. Our numbers plummeted and aqua instructors became a rare breed. If you were flexible enough and could dive through hoops you were successful, otherwise you got caught with the undercurrent and floated away.

So, here we are in the enlightened 21st century, where we are proud to be able to say ‘Aqua’s back’. With ‘skill set’ focused training and insurance assured, we’ve returned to a ‘wet’ focus and our numbers are once again growing. Our classes are diversifying: yes, gentle movement sessions are still on offer, but so too are aqua boot camp classes. In 2015 aqua instructors are meeting the increasing demand for innovative and varied classes in Australian communities.

So there’s my passion, purpose, practise and persistence – but I know I’m not alone. Our industry is rich with individuals who are interested in sharing their specific knowledge, skills and experience. So, here’s the challenge: if this little kid from an immigrant family can be awarded Network Author of the Year, so too can you. Bring your passion and purpose to the forefront and start scribbling, constructing and submitting articles. You never know where it might lead.

Jennifer Schembri-Portelli, aka ‘JSP’, is a skilled fitness and aqua professional with over 25 years’ experience. She founded Water Exercise Training Service (WETS) education provider. In 2015 JSP was named Australian Fitness Network’s Author of the Year.