Reporter’s Notebook: Learning to Swim (Adult Learn to Swim program through the YMCA-Charlotte)

Learning to Swim

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It didn’t really hit me until I had to blow those bubbles.

If you remember learning how to swim, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like basic swim lesson 101: blow endless bubbles in the water so you practice not snorting water and chlorine and consequently having your nose sting like crazy.

Mind you, I’ve never been afraid of water, even being a non-swimmer. I’d still make my jumps in the pool…I’d still venture impressive distances while at the beach on family vacays. I’d still get up at some ungodly hour while living back in South Carolina and run the Lake Murray Dam right before the sun came up, not even being able to see the surface of the dark water many times.

So, I don’t know why blowing bubbles is what kind of started that quickening of the chest like, yep, this is it; we’re really doing this.

But here I was, swim 101, with my instructor, 1-on-1.

Her name was Heather Hageman, a USA Swim Master Coach with the YMCA’s Adult Learn to Swim program. She was no-nonsense but with a congenial air about her; I liked her immediately.

She told me before we got into the Dowd YMCA pool something to the note of, ‘Yes, we’ll take it at your pace. Start off with the breathing techniques, some kicking and go from there.’

Man, how THAT turned out to be the understatement of the year.

Okay, so we start with bubbles. I warm up to just being in the water fairly quickly, once those initial jitters are out of the way. I’m blowing on top of the water at first. Then, I put my chin in. Blow. Then I put my nose in. Blow. (And also hum; it helps). Heather was there coaching me along the way with positive words of encouragement. This whole breathing thing took, maybe, about five minutes.

After that, we breathe longer under the water. Step away from the wall. Lean into the wall. Breathe longer under the water and lean into the wall. Breathe under the water, lean into the wall and lift your feet. Heather is gradually adding things on, simple built on simple.

Then, let’s do some kicking (slightly-bent knee) while hanging on to that wall. Good. Let’s stand and and make circles with our arms in the water…Good. Good!

At this point, I think, ‘Okay, this is pretty easy. I guess this is what day one will be like. I won’t really be full-fledged; I’ve got this in the bag.’

Maybe 2.87 seconds later, I realize how wrong I was. Heather says we’re making our way across HALF the pool, putting together the components of swimming on my belly (kicking, arms in circles, breathing through my nostrils, rounding my back as though there’s a barrel under me).

I’m like, ‘Whoa, okay; let’s do it.” We do it. I’m not perfect but I do well enough to build a little confidence.

Maybe 15-20 minutes after we do that, I’m on my back, kicking, arms making a propeller/jumping jack hybrid motion, hips and chest up, doing a back swim.

Honestly, this was moving FAST…I was floored! Not by the pacing per se, but I had NO idea coming into my first swimming lesson that, an hour later, I’d be swimming on my back. [And bonus that I discovered that I loved swimming on my back and found it much easier than my front; who knew?] I could not believe-I almost refused to believe-it was that simple and yet, all my life, I had been missing out.

Because the truth was, I was doing it…and I felt free. Not to be corny. But I just remember feeling like, this is going to be a breath of fresh air for me. It’s just something about knowing what you’re doing, flowing with it, instead of just being there, like, “Welp, I’m out here and keep your emergencies away” and not really embracing something because you just…don’t know what you’re doing, not really.

My mom can’t swim, my sister can’t, I…couldn’t. And I figured, if I had kids, I’d make sure they learn, like my sister did. But then I thought, why not me? Or so many other people who tell me (even immediately after this story aired), ‘I never learned to swim, I want to learn, I don’t want it to be too late’. We literally received an email from one 72-year-old man who said that he never learned to swim because he had a bad experience, but he wants to learn now. That really touched me. No one should ever feel it’s too late to do something that make you feel good, calm, free, even confident, all feelings that I got that day.

Heather and I actually moved to the big leagues that day; we took it to ‘big kids pool’, 9 feet deep. Within a few hours, on my first day, I was in over my head and okay with it! And I won’t lie; I was afraid. I still am. That was the only part of that day where I struggled a bit. I’m still not quite that comfortable not feeling anything under my feet.

Heather was directing me into the backstroke from one end to another. For some reason, when I reached the middle, I stopped. I don’t know why. And I realized I couldn’t feel anything under my feet. First, I couldn’t believe I’d gotten that far. Two, I immediately grabbed the wall. However, Heather was like, ‘Why’d you stop?...It’s okay…Let’s keep going.” And so we did.

And so we did. And I made. To the 9 feet (cue the trumpets) and we did some techniques, staying in one corner, moving from edge to edge because I still wasn’t really comfortable really letting go. Not yet. Heather kept saying that we’re doing the same thing here as we did in the more shallow pool, but it just felt different. There are levels to this.

However, I’m right now in the process of setting up more classes with Heather through the Y and I feel like I’ll be Michael Phelps by June. Okay, I kid…July.

One thing I know for sure is that I’m continuing this. I felt that shortly after the jitters from the breathing exercise. I thought, ‘This is going to be my new thing.’ And, honestly, I fully plan on swimming straight for that 9 feet.

If you would like more information on the Adult Learn to Swim Class, check out the YMCA Charlotte’s website by clicking here.

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