Wow! Who said this was going to be a good idea? This is more about overcoming a fear than it is about learning to swim. Forty years is a long time to carry a fear. What was I thinking when I agreed to get in a pool at this age? Looking back, and I do mean a long way back on my learning to swim journey, I had visions of swimming laps effortlessly after maybe a few sessions. I didn’t anticipate it taking long to learn all the basic stuff like breathing properly, the proper way to kick, and blah blah blah. Then the first days of swim lessons arrived and I realized that I had no clue. Just because you get in the water with all the right gear on doesn’t make you a swimmer. You may look cute, but a swimmer you are not. I knew I wasn’t ready to go to the deep end of the pool, but what I didn’t know was that I would spend the next several months hanging out in the very shallow end of the pool–and by shallow I mean 3ft and less. What I mean when I say 3ft or less is that I spent a considerable amount of time hanging out near the wall and rope area since you can never be too cautious. I never knew there was so much to learn about breathing, floating on your back and kicking.
I finally got off the wall and explored other areas of the pool once I finally realized I could simply stand up whenever I felt unsure of something. Keep in mind that the pool is only 4ft deep and since I am a few inches over 5ft the water would only be chest level. Yeah, I would constantly remind myself of this fact to convince myself I would not drown. Now that’s easier said than done. Although I remained skeptical, I often gave myself secret pep talks before getting in the pool. After spending another lifetime working on kicking and getting comfortable floating, it was time to put everything together. I began working on swimming freestyle just like it appeared everyone else was doing when they showed up to the pool to lap swim. OK, not so fast, it sounded good but there is just something about connecting all the dots that didn’t click quite as fast as I wanted. So after seeing someone swimming the breast stroke it only made sense that I would try it out too. Alas, something I could do and not feel like I was too old to even be in the pool. After what felt like another forever, I was finally comfortable enough to venture into the lap pool.
Yay! I am finally in the lap pool, but man oh man, it was DEEP. I mean really DEEP! Time for another pep talk. After trying it out, using a flotation belt, swim instructor assistance and lifeguards nearby I might be convinced I’m not going to die. After another forever of perfecting my breaststroke and getting acclimated to being in deep water, I am swimming. I mean really swimming in the deep end without a flotation device, unassisted and not holding the wall.
Learning to swim over 40 has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done in many years. I now realize that the swimming part is easy and actually has been from day one. The trusting and believing is the challenge. Persistence is key. Each day little by little I learned to trust myself more and fear less. As my trust level rose the fear factor went down. This experience has been a constant battle of the mind and a mental exercise. Not only has learning to swim increased my confidence in the pool but outside of the pool as well. I know that if I have the courage to do something I’ve feared for over 40 years there are simply no limits to what I can do outside of the pool. The only limits are those I place on myself.
If you don’t know how to swim and are considering embarking on this journey, it is never too late. Remember to get out of your own way. Consider that learning to swim is not just a matter of exercise it is also a safety issue. For more information on the importance of learning to swim check out this article in Essence magazine.