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 then 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?

by  Derek Wing

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