Drew, don’t go too far. Drew, don’t go in the deep end. Drew, you’re going to get in trouble and mommy can’t help you. Every time I take my fearless 6-year-old son to the pool that’s just a stone’s throw from our front door, I give him the same water safety speech. Until a few weeks ago, he would listen to everything I said.
But between then and now, something changed. He took swim lessons at North Pool — and his desire to do more in the water increased tenfold — and I realized my fear of water was going to start holding him back.
I know in my rational mind that the ability to swim will save his life. I put my son in swim lessons because I did not want him to become another statistic. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 70 percent of black children in this country do not know how to swim. And the Centers for Disease Control reports that when it comes to drowning, black children drown at a rate three times higher than their white peers do.
That being said, I either had to get in the pool or get him out of the pool completely. But seeing how the latter wasn’t a logical option, I decided it was time I learned to swim.
It also didn’t help that my excuses for not taking lessons were being shot down.
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Swim lessons are expensive, I told myself. Then I found out the Elyria Parks and Recreation Department was offering an adult swim class for just $25 a session.
Lisa Bowman, parks supervisor, said the class was partly financed with Community Development Block Grant funds. The grant allowed anyone over the age of 55 to take the class at the reduced fee, and to keep the classes full the city opened them to all adults at the same cost.
“It has been such a success for us that for next year we are planning to hold two morning sessions and two evening sessions,” Bowman said. “I wasn’t prepared for the popularity of the class or how great it would feel to watch these adults get over their fears. It sent chills down my spine to watch men and women who one day cling to the noodles finally be able to jump off the diving board by the end of the last session.”
My second excuse: I don’t have time to swim 9:50 to 10:30 a.m. every day. I have to work. My editor quickly eliminated time as an issue by telling me I could take the class as long as I promised to write about my experiences.
So, at that point nothing was holding me back … except fear. The kind of fear that seems insane to some, but for me is deeply rooted in a near-drowning experience I had when I was a child.
What I learned through this experience, though, was that I was not the only one with a similar fear.
Since the beginning of the class, I had been enjoying the shallow end with Raylette Stephens of Elyria. She is a 40-something black women who has a great smile and loves to talk about her kids — six of them between the ages of 21 and 5. For her, too, it was her kids that inspired her to get over her fear.
“I put all of my kids through swim lessons from the time they were 3 years old and now they all know how to swim, go down the slide and dive off the diving board,” she said. “I know I couldn’t just stay in the shallow part anymore because I would miss out on being with them.”
Stephens often told the instructors of the class — four certified lifeguards, two of whom are studying to be physical therapists — what she was not going to do in the pool and how her noodle was not coming off. On the first day of the class, she was the one making it across the pool with two noodles around her waist and a kickboard at the end of her extended arms.
A week later, she was using just one noodle and had made tremendous progress.
Monday, she even jumped into 8 feet of water just moments after I did in the ultimate test of getting over our fear. Of course, we were flanked by the four lifeguards, but it was a monumental moment for us.
“This is my time to do it,” Stephens said after hopping out of the pool.
I know exactly how she feels.
This is my time to do this, too. I want to enjoy the pool, not fear it.
My swimming diary
Day 1. It was not by accident that I became an adult who can’t swim. My fear of water is deep-rooted in my psyche. That fear manifested itself quickly today, Day 1 of my swim lessons. I can’t blow bubbles under water because my natural instinct to hold my breath kicks in. Realizing this, I almost cried and quit within the first 15 minutes. But I stuck it out, skipped that part and moved on to kicking my feet and trying to move across the top of the water. With the aid of a noodle and kickboard, I made it across without my instructor, Tyler, holding me up. The rest of the class cheered. I felt like a very accomplished 6-year-old in a 34-year-old woman’s body. I plan to go back tomorrow. At this point, that is the biggest accomplishment.
Day 2. Who would have thought a single bubble would be marked as an accomplishment. But today I blew a bubble under water from my nose and a lot more from my mouth. It seems so strong to be that excited about something that can be viewed as small, but to me it means I am getting over my fear. With a pair of goggles on I stared down the bottom of the pool and blew. Today I also made it a few feet without a noodle or kick board. I’m talking feet off the ground moving in the water. Tomorrow’s goal is to make it across the pool without stopping.
Day 3. I’m putting it all together today — trying to breathe under water, kicking my feet and moving my arms. It’s like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. It’s harder than it looks. But my fear is almost gone. I think I’m actually enjoying the pool. Who would have thought I would say that? So in my state of enjoyment, today I ventured away from the shallow 3-feet end of the pool. I started treading water in 4 feet, then 5 feet and stopped in 7 feet. I felt like a big girl moving along the pool — but with my noodle tucked firmly under my arms, of course. Tomorrow’s goal is to tread with no noodle. Those lifeguards better be on their toes.
Day 4. I JUMPED INTO THE POOL! With a lifeguard standing by to, well, guard my life, and a noodle tucked under my arms, I jumped into about 8 feet of water and pushed myself up to the top. I hoped today would be a no-noodle, but I can’t get away from the false sense of security it gives me even if I look like a 5-year-old. Every day is a step forward. I had no idea learning how to swim would be such a confidence boost, but I feel like if I can do this, get over this fear I could do anything.
Day 5. I still have the noodle. Its OK, I keep telling myself. Maybe tomorrow will be the day. Just look at what you have been able to accomplish. But I want to get rid of the noodle. I want to jump into the pool without the insane fear of going straight to the bottom. I’m not there yet. So, where am I? Well, I can put my head under the water without saying a prayer first. I know the mechanics of swimming even if I am miserably losing points on my execution. I laugh and smile throughout the class, and I have even become a bit of a cheerleader to others telling them they can do it, too. In regards to that darn noodle, there is always tomorrow. CANNON BALL!!
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.