Learning to swim, Pt. 1

During a meeting at work the other day, we were talking about water safety, the importance of wearing life preservers and learning how to swim. My esteemed colleague Jon mentioned that he didn’t learn how to swim until he was 28 years old, and I chimed in that I still don’t know how to swim.

That’s when the needle scratched on the record, all heads turned my way and the rapid-fire questions began: How could you not know how to swim? Why didn’t you ever learn? What is it about the water that scares you?

After a bit of discussion, and even more ridicule, I volunteered (or maybe someone volunteered me) to learn how to swim this summer and document my classes in a series of blogs. Hopefully this will provide hope and inspiration for others non-swimmers like myself, or comic relief for those who are already strong swimmers.

After signing up for swimming classes at the local YMCA but before my first lesson, I spent time thinking about why swimming is so intimidating to me. Here’s what I came up with:

  • I can’t swim because I had a traumatic experience or two in the water when I was a kid, where I almost drowned.
  • I never learned because I was scared and embarrassed, feelings which only grew stronger as I got older.
  • EVERYTHING scares me about the water- the feeling of not being on solid ground, that sense of panic/shortness of breath when water gets up to my neck or higher, losing a couple of my five senses when underwater (sight, hearing).
  • I have an irrational distrust of physics and hate that feeling of initial terror when I first sink lower into the water than I want, especially since I don’t believe I’ll float back up.
  • I don’t trust myself to be able to do what I’m supposed to do in and under water.

It all adds up to an unpleasant experience, one that I have a mental aversion to now.

However, as I see my two young children learning to swim (they’re taking lessons right now, too) and realize how vitally important swimming is as a survival skill (especially in the Northwest, where there is a *lot* of water everywhere), I am ready to tackle my fears and literally take the plunge.

Over the next month, I’ll be taking swim classes, and will update you on my progress, or lack thereof, on this blog. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your stories of swimming: How did you learn, how did you get over your fears and/or how did you get so good at swimming?

Laura Brown

06/19/2017 11:53 PM

I kind of knew how, (stress on the words "kind of") but never really felt competent until I started adult lessons at the ripe old age of 48. My son, who had been on the Shorecrest High School swim team for 4 years had moved out of state for a job, and missing him, I decided to get into the pool he had moved away from.

I've bounced back and forth in the time since, between taking lessons and just practicing what I'd learned. It took me a few months to overcome the fact that one of the instructors had been my son's friend on the Shorecrest team - that's genuinely a little odd for both parties! BUT since I'd fairly well mastered breaststroke, freestyle, and backstroke (except for those moments when I drip water on my nose and mouth), he actually managed to teach me enough about butterfly (yes! Butterfly!) that I eventually have been able to do a full lap, and my time is better than my breaststoke time, and not too far behind my freestyle speed. I told Shawn he should be proud, because not *everyone* (I would posit it's more like "Hardly anyone!") can teach a middle-aged, obese women with prior shoulder issues to be able to swim butterfly!

I'm so glad that I took those lessons 4 years ago -- yeah, I'd taken them before, and knew the concepts, but was very shaky with the practice of swimming. When I was little, ear infections led to every adult I knew shouting, "DON'T put your head in the water!" That kind of stuck, for a long, long time. I was in Beginner 1 for virtually every swimming lesson I had prior to older teen years. A couple of years ago, I accumulated swims to match the distance of the length of Lake Washington over the summer. This year, I'm focusing on trying to reach 50 days of swimming laps between June 1 and August 31.

Keep it up! It's worth it. (I realize this post is a year old, and I haven't read part 2 yet, but I really hope that it clicked for you!)

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