How I became an adult swimming teacher
8 February 2011
As a child I spent most of my week in the water – not just splashing around but seriously hoping to become an Olympic champion!
Sadly, as I began to lose races more often I realised my dreams weren’t meant to be.
So, as a 16-year old and with the lure of a future as a personal secretary to a managing director in London, I gave up swimming.
Whenever I need to escape a road going nowhere, I reach for the only place I feel safe and free - the water.
But the passion for the water never truly left me – memories of gliding across lengths of ice-cold water on a hot day or the taste and smell of the white froth of the sea.
I’ve always loved the calming effect of swimming. The feel of the water on my arms never fails to make me feel good about myself.
So whenever I need to escape the claws of angry humans or a road which is going nowhere, I reach for the only place I feel truly safe and free – the water.
With four children to bring up in a not-so-happy household, all four learned to swim. I would whisk them together whenever I could for an afternoon bathing, laughing and having fun.
When one of my children showed signs of following in my footsteps, I encouraged and swayed her to go three or four times to our local swimming club. I also offered my services to the little ones at the club and got a badge to say I could help them to learn to swim.
My daughter gave up at much the same age as I did but I never gave up my feelings of elation being in the water and thought about what I could do to help others who felt the same as me.
I started volunteering at a local swimming club, energised again by the excitement of a won race or an arm bent in the right direction.
Then I thought about how many adults there are who want to swim but are afraid to enter water on their own. I offered my services to the Kingfisher Leisure Centre to teach adults to swim.
One swimmer came to me, her face contorted with pain as she dipped her toes in the water.
When I started my first session I had no idea what was to confront me.
For many of my swimmers, a sudden fear in early childhood had made water a threat, a nightmare and a place where drowning was inevitable.
One swimmer came to me, her face contorted with pain as she tried to dip her toes under the surface of the water.
She had been scared of swimming since a childhood accident when she had to be pulled out of a river but after a few weeks of gentle cajoling, praising and slow water skills (using woggles for balance and floats) she at last began to find peace in the water.
Another young swimmer paid vast sums of money to go with her friends on sun-soaked holidays, only to find she panicked as soon as she saw the sea. She found herself standing silently as her friends swam further and further out.
Now she too has learnt not to be afraid of the water, to float serenely on her back and enjoy the beautiful sea.
I also had a young man from Sri Lanka who had wanted to learn to swim all his life.
I realised early on he was special. His strokes were like the paddles on a boat, gliding gracefully through the water.
He was elated when he could finally swim on his own and told me: “It’s like a dream – as soon as you get in the water you forget all your worries.”
Every Monday night I teach adults to enjoy the water. I go in with them and we start gentle exercises.
One of the first things I do is ask them to close their eyes and think of all the nice things they can think of about water. We lie peacefully in the shallow pool resting and dreaming for a few seconds.
My Monday night group is thriving with at least eight novice adult swimmers, unafraid, unashamed and just learning to love the water.