TO CELEBRATE my 60th birthday I decided I would learn to swim—once and for all. I’ve been on the water on boats for many years but never in the water. I hadn’t really learned how to swim as a kid and I was not comfortable around water. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. When I was 15 I signed up for class at a local high school—just me and 20 other sophomores. We were asked to enter the pool, float at the wall and kick. Apparently, my float was not horizontal enough. Three of us did not return for another class; I was one of them. So I managed my feelings about the water. I rarely went in or near pools, did not go canoeing or kayaking or snorkeling. And my bathing suits never wore out. Then, eight years ago, I signed up for a series of (smaller) adult classes and private lessons at my local swim center. The instructors were very patient and taught many of the basics. I could now float and swim short distances, but only with a kickboard. I felt stuck in my ability to learn further, so I stopped taking lessons. Again, I managed, but was convinced I was a “sinker.”
Then, a few months ago I learned about Miracle Swimming for Adults through information on their website, podcasts and in a book written by Melon Dash who founded the program 30-plus years ago.
The premise is that anyone can learn to swim, just as we had learned to walk or talk. But we had to learn slowly, step by step, without skipping any. We might have to repeat a step twenty, fifty, perhaps a hundred times until we “owned it.” And it didn’t matter how long it took. We could proceed at our own pace. There were no deadlines. The only point was to be comfortable all the time. We could ask all the questions we wanted and only do things if they sounded like fun. And, we did not have to be perfectly horizontal to have a good front float (one’s float is dependent on one’s body composition). As you may have guessed, this all resonated with me.
There was still more to learn—that we had many choices to make. We could continue to manage how we felt about the water, something we’ve done for decades very successfully, or we could choose to start anew. We could choose to feel fearful of the water or slow down and be calm inside, in control, feeling the water’s buoyancy hold you up, and feeling safe. We could choose (as in my case) to blame previous instructors or forgive them as well-meaning individuals who just wanted to keep their students safe. And we could choose to forgive ourselves for never learning to swim and giving it a go yet again.
So, I signed up for a five-day beginning class in Sarasota, Florida, which consisted of eight sessions each lasting three hours. Each session began with an hour of discussion followed by two hours in the pool with an instructor and a spotter (who was also an instructor) and four other students. We started with something very simple and familiar – just walking across the pool very slowly to feel how the water affected our movements. Then the basics, floating at the wall, focusing on feeling the water hold you up, blowing bubbles with your face in the water. Then, on the third day my breakthrough came. I floated and “unfloated” away from the wall—my first time ever. I was now free of the wall (and the kickboard)! I repeated this for the rest of the classes so that I could own it.
Once I was back home, I returned to my local swim center and signed up for a water aerobics class and some private lessons. The aerobics class was a great way to limber up and get more accustomed to the water’s buoyancy. But the lessons have been more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. My instructor, who is also a neuroscientist, explains each movement or stroke in terms of the muscles used. This is helpful for “visualizing” what I need to do in water and for deciding which exercises to do on land in between classes—my “homework assignments.” I learn something new each time and I learn because I am calm inside. I do not feel stuck. I feel more in control and am having fun.
I am very thankful for the positive experiences I have now had in the water, and there’s still much more to learn. I hope someday to go snorkeling in some exotic locale or even be a spotter in a Miracle Swimming class (in my wildest dreams). I am grateful for the support of my husband, family and friends. And I am thankful for learning (or perhaps re-learning) that I have many choices and that having choices means you’re in control—a simple but all-important life lesson.