I have taught hundreds of people, of all ages, to swim but because of this horrible pandemic all my swimming classes have come to a halt. It just happened that my last swimming session before lock down turned out to be a very special one.
My pupil at that last lesson was Franco, who had just turned 50. He had bad memories of swimming lessons at school. Although he couldn’t remember any particular incident that had put him off he had just never learned to swim. He had tried at least once to learn as an adult with the help of a friend but he had got nowhere. So like many of the adults I teach he avoided the water.
Many people I teach are a bit embarrassed and sometimes almost apologetic that they can’t swim or that they are frightened, but I am always full of admiration at their courage and determination.
At the first lesson Franco was nervous getting into the water and he held on the side as we walked up and down the pool. The strength and power and the sheer weight of the water is often surprising to people who are not used to being in a pool. One woman once said to me
‘The water is trying to take me away’
and I know it can feel like that.
Another thing that makes people afraid is the thought of putting their face in the water, but I have never, ever had any adult who can’t do it after about 5 minutes. There are very simple techniques to take the fear out of it. (Children are a different matter and will not put their faces in the water until they are ready. Some can hold out for months, even years).
Franco was very cautious about putting his face in but with the help of some good goggles and a nose clip and after I explained it was mainly about feeling in control he was fine.
The next thing is to get my pupil to float a little bit, again there are simple techniques for achieving this. Once someone has allowed themselves to float even for a few seconds then swimming is within their grasp.
It was at Franco’s second lesson that I took this video. We both knew it would be some time before we would be able to continue with lessons as the lock down was about to start. I don’t know if that is what gave him the courage, but after minimal instruction apart from me explaining to him that he had to let go and allow the water to take him, he just set off and swam the whole length of the pool. I was amazed. I think he was too. I don’t think either of us expected it.
It is always a wonderful moment when someone swims for the first time although I am used to it now as I have seen it happen so many times. But somehow, maybe because of the impending lock down, this moment felt very profound.
Of course we talked a little bit about the virus and the restrictions would mean to us all although I don’t think it was really possible to grasp at that moment just how horrible it would be. But maybe we did have an inkling because Franco said to me
‘It is as though we are at war, but at least we are fighting a virus, not each other. That must be a good thing.’
And I think it must be. Stay safe everyone.