At 55, I’ve gone years without trying to learn to swim, and it’s been years since I’ve been in a swimming pool. But this summer I ran into an acquaintance. She looked so healthy and happy. She was biking to the Millennium hotel to swim in their pool. She did it every day. I felt a sudden, intense longing to swim. I wanted that — riding to the pool along the creek path, the confident joy. I wanted to be a swimmer.
I went home and searched the Internet to see if anyone offered lessons at the Millennium pool. I didn’t want group lessons: they had never worked for me. I wanted the right teacher because despite the adrenaline pushing me to find lessons now, I knew my frustration or fear could defeat me. Beth’s website came up and I explored it just enough to see that she taught adults who were afraid of water, that she was a runner, and that she appeared close to my age — I had a good feeling about her and thought I would try one lesson. I emailed her quickly before I chickened out.
I wrote that I was athletic (30 marathons) but afraid of deep water and had never grasped the coordination — using my breath/arms/legs together — to be able to swim. I wanted a supportive, encouraging teacher.
Beth offered to put me in touch with some current students and thanked me for my background information and best of all, told me that the pool at the Millennium doesn’t have a deep end. While I appreciated the offer to talk to current students, I didn’t want to think too much about my lesson ahead of time. I was glad that she cared about my background — but really, knowing there was no deep end sealed it for me.
I was excited before my first lesson as I wandered the hotel hallways looking for the pool — then feeling joy: the pool was in a big open room, three sides of windows and high ceiling. I didn’t know I associated pools with claustrophobic rooms. Nor did it reek of chlorine (something else I didn’t know I disliked). It was freeing that this pool had none of the negative associations with past pools (dark and smelly) where I’d been unsuccessful since childhood.
I felt comfortable with Beth immediately. She was competent and gentle. We talked about how I was feeling (mostly excited) before I put on the first pair of goggles I’ve ever owned and got into the pool.
I showed her that I could float on my back and front. I put my head underwater. I could blow bubbles. When I floated on my front, Beth pointed out some simple adjustments I could make to my head position. Who knew it mattered? With a few changes I felt more balanced and floated with more ease. She saw how tightly I held myself and suggested ways I could relax my shoulders and feel what I was doing in the water — in my body — not just in my brain. She had me turn over, put my face in the water, arms straight ahead, and kick to propel myself while blowing out. At first I did not move forward at all but I did get my head in and got the idea of blowing bubbles into the water. After some practice I was able to propel myself across the pool standing up just a couple of times to take a breath. I enjoyed my lesson. It went too quickly! Maybe this time I would really learn to swim.
Dear Shoney: I knew right away after reading your initial email that there was something special about you, and it would be easy for us to connect. And I sensed the courage you were dredging up to take on the task of learning to swim. ~Beth