Confessions of an Adult Learning to Swim

I had a rather depressing milestone birthday this year and around the same time, a friend asked if I’d like to participate in a women’s empowerment mini-triathlon in September with her. It sounded like an intriguing idea – just what I needed this year to prove to myself I’m not yet “over the hill.”

The Ramblin’ Rose event in North Carolina involves swimming 250 yards in a pool, biking nine miles and walking or running two miles.

I was a member of a bicycle club (OK – it was 20 years ago) and went on several 50- and 100-mile rides as well as weekend biking trips, and I’m currently a member of a local walking club that covers long distances at a very brisk pace. The most challenging part – aside from having never done any competition such as a mini-triathlon  before – is that I really don’t know how to swim.

When I was in elementary school, my mom enrolled me in beginner’s swimming lessons. I took them, flunked, and took them again. Mom then enrolled me in intermediate swimming lessons. I took them, flunked, and took them again. (Can you see a pattern here?)

My less-than-stellar swimming record didn’t stop me from going to the swimming pool with friends every day of summer during junior high. I could jump off the diving board and make it to the ladder on the side of the pool without drowning , and that’s all that mattered. My primary goal was to hang out with the boys in my class, although their idea of fun was sneaking up on the girls and dunking them.

Back to the present… I recently enrolled in private swimming lessons as a “mature adult” and it’s been a humbling experience.

Kids First Swim SchoolLessons take place at Kids First Swim School – a local business located in a popular shopping center. It has a nice, new indoor swimming pool and (obviously) caters to teaching young children to swim.

I’ve taken two lessons so far.

First, I put my belongings in a cute little “cubbie” (just like a kindergarten student) and wait for the three-year-olds in the “Mommy and Me”  swim class to exit the pool. Maybe they think I’m just a big kid (?), but I feel kind of foolish standing there in my black one-piece bathing suit, towel in hand.

The first night, my young (but patient and kind) teacher asked me to show her how I swim, after I immediately confessed, “I really don’t know anything about swimming. Just treat me like a three-year-old, OK?”

I cringed and complied. After watching me flail around in the water, she crossed her arms and said, “Hmmm.”

She returned with a small foam kick board and showed me how to hold it out in front of me with my arms straight and practice kicking. After a while, she asked me to kick across the pool (which is only about 15 feet wide). I moved forward about six feet and then kicked and kicked as my feet sunk to the bottom of the pool and finally asked, “Why am I not going anywhere?”

She responded again, “Hmmm.” This time, she returned with a pair of fins and had me put them on.

woman in swimming poolI practiced kicking in them, while holding the board, and, lo and behold, I made it across the pool! Success at last!

That weekend after my weightlifting class at the gym, I got in their pool with my own little float and tried to swim across. No go, without the fins. Finally (although we hadn’t officially gotten to that part in my lessons yet) I used my arms, and — yay! — made it across the pool 10 or 12 times, stopping after each crossing. It wasn’t a total success, as I realized I didn’t have the “putting-your-face-in-the-water-and-lifting-your-head-to-breath-after-three-counts” part mastered after I gulped two huge mouthfuls of highly clorinated water. Ick.

At lesson #2, I broke out my hot pink goggles (because, wow, does the chlorine make your eyes sting when your face is down in the water). It was also a nice look with the yellow fins. (I haven’t been able to make myself buy a (no doubt highly flattering) swim cap yet, but I can see that coming… really don’t want my hair to turn green…)woman with float and fins

The second night, the teacher taught me to use my arms. It’s really confusing to think about moving your arms, kicking your legs, keeping your legs straight, counting to three with your head under the water and then coming up for air and breathing without swallowing water, and doing it all again..and again. I did make it across the pool a few times and considered the evening a success.

The teacher videotaped me swimming during the lesson as a learning tool. (Now THAT video will not be appearing on UTube.) It’s definitely a “before” — and I can only hope there’s one later that qualifies as an “after.”

Will I progress from being unable to cross a 15-foot pool to swimming 250 yards by September?

I’m an extremely determined individual, am normally pretty athletic (despite the childhood fiascos of swimming lessons and my first running race) and am highly motivated by a challenge. (I also admit that, as a very frugal person, I’m partially motivated because of the $$$ paid for the series of private swimming lessons.)

In the end, I guess it all boils down to the age-old question of whether you can teach an old(er) dog new tricks…

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45 Responses to Confessions of an Adult Learning to Swim

  1. jetgirlcos says:

    Hello there! Thanks for visiting and following my blog. This story is awesome and I wish you the best of luck! I have a similar history with swimming (failed the test in 1st grade) but I never really got back in the pool after that. I think you’re very courageous to do this and I look forward to hearing about your success 🙂 I really love your “about” paragraph; you have such a lovely purpose for your blog! Thank you!

  2. TheJackB says:

    I used to swim competitively, love it. I can see in your picture that you are bending your knee while kicking. Try to keep your leg straight and kick from the waist. Might feel a bit awkward at first but give it some time and you’ll find yourself moving along with less effort.

    • Thanks so much for your observation — my teacher says the same thing, but I just can’t feel that my leg is bent. Any idea how to ensure it stays straight? I thought about wearing those tight, stretchy knee supports so I wouldn’t be able to easily bend the knees. Think that would work?

  3. Meg says:

    You’ll do great! I’m a rotten swimmer too. Can’t do the Australian crawl or whatever it is called (freestyle?). I can do breast stroke and that’s always what I rely on when swimming. Kudos to you for taking lessons.

  4. I think it’s great that you are willing to learn to swim again. Enjoyed this little tale. Visiting from the yeah write moonshine grid.

  5. innatejames says:

    ^what cynk said. I’m not sure I’d be as willing to go for something after attempting it and failing when I was young. My equivalent to your swimming would be baseball. Just can’t see myself hopping in. Bravo!

  6. Jean says:

    Wow! I admire you. You’re so brave to learn swimming. Honestly, I still don’t know how to swim too and I’m already at my 20’s which s*cks but I’m also trying to learn. Congrats on your progress and good luck! 🙂

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    • Hi-
      I didn’t realize age would be a problem til I started in on this adventure…but the Blue Cross/Blue Shield had no age limit and immediate availability, so it seemed like a great deal!

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