Felixstowe swimmer says life transformed after learning to swim as an adult

Vicki Markham, having previously been terrified of the water for her entire adult life, says lessons have opened up a whole new social life for her – conquering her initial fear.

She’s now an avid swimmer who wants to learn more and more with the help of her teachers and fellow participants.

Vicki has attended lessons every week for nearly two years, in all weathers, despite living miles away and needing to make her way to Felixstowe Leisure Centre by mobility scooter.

Now, having learned to swim and boosting her confidence dramatically, Vicki is supporting a new campaign launched by Swim England that looks to dispel the myths and stigma around learning to swim as an adult.

New research indicates there remains a number of inaccurate and damaging misconceptions about adult swimming lessons, resulting in many just like Vicki across the nation missing out on learning an invaluable life skill or rediscovering their love for the water.

Reflecting on why swimming lessons have made such a difference to both her physical and mental health, Vicki said: “About a year before we had the Covid lockdowns, I had trouble with falling a lot, because of arthritis in my knees.

“The physio and GP suggested I should try swimming or aqua-aerobics. It’s really helped me, there’s been a huge improvement.

“I think a lot of people if they haven’t learned as a child, can feel really quite scared. There’s other things that can put people off too – but I want people to know that the environment is amazing, it’s fully supportive. Many don’t realise that you don’t have to wear a swimming costume, you can wear a T-shirt, or shorts. The teachers are there to make you feel at ease and fully comfortable.

“I’m not a social person by nature, and I used to be quite isolated before I came to swimming lessons. Now – I’m a totally different person. Even my family say they can see a clear difference with me, I was bit more of a grouch before!

“Every single person I’ve come in contact with through swimming lessons I am still friends with. We meet up socially, it’s made such a positive difference to my mental health and that is as important with swimming as the physical side. You meet such a range of people from all different backgrounds, and can enjoy the experience together.”

The sector is looking to inspire more people into the water at any stage of their life – with data currently suggesting as many as half of adults feel it’s intimidating to learn to swim as an adult, and more than two in five feeling swimming lessons aren’t for ‘people like me’.

Worryingly, some appear to be more adversely affected by these misconceptions, with those from ethnically diverse communities even more likely to report that lessons would be intimidating.

Despite this, there is a clear latent demand of non-swimmers ready to take the plunge and start their swimming journey.

1.7 million from ethnically diverse communities have not been swimming in the last 12 months, but want to swim in next 12 months.

Breaking down barriers

As part of the latest #LoveSwimming campaign, more adults are being urged to get back into swimming, whether they be a complete beginner or rediscovering their love for the water.

Katie Towner, Swim England’s Head of Learn to Swim, said: “Vicki’s story is extremely inspiring and we believe no one should feel as though it’s too late for them to learn to swim, or that there are any barriers to them having their first lesson at any age or ability level.

“Our new research reveals a number of misconceptions about swimming lessons that we are want to dispel once and for all – whether it concerns what you should wear in the water, lesson privacy, or who swimming is for.

“We all know that swimming is an essential life skill – but for so many across the nation it is the gateway to creating amazing memories with your family, becoming healthier and happier, and achieving full confidence in the water.

“Knowing that so many want to swim but lack the confidence or knowledge to get started, we are delighted to be launching our latest wave of #LoveSwimming to break down barriers and inspire more adults into the water.”

To sign up to lessons at your local pool, visit swimming.org/loveswimming.