The Aqua Life Swim Academy

Stephanie Rainey and a student.

Get In the Swim of Things!

Stephanie Rainey knows, first hand, the empowerment, joy and confidence that come with the ability to swim. At age 11 she tried out for competitive swimming and took to it, well, like a fish to water. She went on to become a lifeguard, swim instructor, competitive swimming coach and innovative swim educator. Today people call her the Swim Whisperer.

Despite all that time in the water, she looks forward to pulling on a bathing suit and swimming the length of the lake at the cottage in the summer. “It totally freaks out your neighbours,” she laughs. “I do it for the sheer fun of it.” Her latest goal is to join her sister in doing Western Australia’s Rottnest Channel Swim, a 19.7 kilometre open water challenge.

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As owner of the Aqua Life Swim Academy, this mother of four and former high school teacher has an inspiring can-do attitude. She has combined her two passions—swimming and teaching—to create a new and innovative swim school business that provides jobs in the Ottawa market and supports and enables people of all ages and abilities to master the invaluable life skill.

“It’s the optimal environment and setup to be successful,” she explains.

Having worked for a long time in a system that “leaves a lot of kids behind” Stephanie was determined, when she started her swim school four years ago, to create “the ultimate place to learn.” She did.

A YouTube video, called Sink or Swim, about Margaret Hartshorn attests to that. “I was petrified of the water, absolutely petrified,” explains the Ottawa senior as the video camera rolls. She was also afraid to fail. As someone with dyslexia, Margaret struggled as a youngster. In her words, “When you’re at school and you’re told you’re never going to amount to anything, it’s a big challenge to amount to something.”

At age 48, she dared to go to college and discovered she could, in fact, soak up knowledge. But swimming? “I had this total fear of water.” Nonetheless, the feisty grandmother decided she would learn to swim by her 70th birthday.

Her husband drove her to her first lesson at the Aqua Life Swim Academy “because I wouldn’t have done it.” She can’t remember much about that first session in the water except fear, and Stephanie Rainey holding her hand.

After many lessons, Margaret now propels herself through the water with ease, and through life with more self-assurance. “I can learn,” she says with delight. “I can.”

That same joy and sense of accomplishment are felt time and again at this unique swim school. To date, over 1400 people have benefitted from the program and Stephanie says all ages are welcome. “We have kids as young as a year old and the oldest was 77.” For all age groups, Aqua Life offers “a learning experience that nurtures trust, breakthroughs, and joy.”

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In practical terms, there are a number of advantages that set the Aqua Life Swim Academy apart from other learn-to-swim offerings:

The water is warm and the atmosphere is calm at the pools, located at the Brookstreet Hotel and the Holiday Inn & Suites in Kanata, Best Western Plus Hotel and Conference Centre in Nepean, and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ottawa East in Orleans.

The approach is hands-on and the curriculum focuses on swim fundamentals and strokes. That way students “get the feel” of what they’re being taught. Their muscles and minds are mastering skills.

There are small class sizes, so learners get more support and individual attention.

There’s no pressure or deadline. Students don’t pass or fail. Instead, there’s feedback at the end of each lesson, and people move on to the next level when they’re ready.

The program has just three levels and, typically, learners spend a year or two at each level. What’s more, registration is ongoing so once you have a spot you can stay in that spot for as long as you’d like.

Certainly, there’s a lot to like. Students and instructors develop a cooperative relationship, working together so that the learner can develop the comfort level and proficiency to lead a more full life in and around the water.

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It’s a personal commitment, built on trust, that allows participants to thrive. Stephanie mentions one little boy whose family owns a cottage. He didn’t like to be in the water, refused to even put his face in, and his parents were desperate to help him conquer his aversion. At the Aqua Life Swim Academy, as trust developed, he was having so much fun he forgot to be afraid; he went underwater to get a torpedo toy during a game. “Now he’s one of the best swimmers.”

As for the instructors, “They love the kids so much,” she says. “They’re invested in the learning of their students; it’s really wonderful to see.”

And after nearly three decades as a swim educator, Stephanie Rainey still gets a thrill out of watching students swim for the first time. “It opens up the doors to so many things in life.”

For details about the Aqua Life Swim Academy, see and call 613 793-0323.

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