Confident. Funny. Outgoing. Intelligent. That’s how I would describe my friend, Jerry. He’s the guy everyone loves, the life of the party. I just assumed he was a good swimmer. He goes to pool parties, does crazy dismounts off the diving board, splashes and goofs around. He definitely seems like he has no problem navigating the water, so I had no idea that his biggest fear is drowning. This is one of the many things about drowning that scares me: Drowning has no prejudice. The water doesn’t care if you are young, old, athletic, lazy, thin, fat, black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, smart, successful or popular.
There is no guarantee that one will not drown. However, learning basic swimming/ safety/ survival skills and having respect for the water will certainly reduce your risk. According to the CDC, “Formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by as much as 88% among young children aged 1 to 4 years, who are at greatest risk of drowning.” I’ll take those odds! Yet, I still know parents that take their kids out of swim lessons because it’s too far, they’re not ready, too young, want to do ballet, soccer, gymnastics, you name it. Learning to swim is a life-saving skill; it is not an optional activity. It breaks my heart to see a healthy, happy child score a goal or play an instrument, but not know what to do in a pool- especially since swimming has so many cognitive and motor development benefits.
I digress. Getting back to Jerry, whom I asked, “Can you swim?” Three simple words form what seems to be the simplest question in the world. Yet, the answers I’ve received throughout Project: Face in Water have proven otherwise. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what “swimming” really means. Jerry’s response:
“I’m not afraid of the water, but I have deep respect for it. I can dive (even off the high dive) and swim to the side of the pool. I didn’t like the sting in my eyes as a kid so I never swam with my eyes open in the water. So as I saw it I had 2 choices: Swim underwater with my eyes shut or swim above water with my eyes open, moving my head back and forth with each stroke exerting all of my energy… From what I remember being told my Mother was and is afraid of the water… My worst fear is drowning and it almost happened as a teen. My buddy was on the swim team and swam out to the buoy at a lake. Trying to be MACHO, I followed… I was exhausted, didn’t know my limits or understand there might be the possibility of not making it back to shore. I had never tested myself in the water this way before… I started to go under, water in my mouth, barely being able to yell for help. After about 3 cries for help, I knew no one could hear me. I didn’t panic; I knew I could lie on my back and float; I had practiced this as a kid. It worked out, I FINALLY got to shore… It was the next day after a good night’s sleep before the fog lifted.”
Fortunately, even though Jerry’s mom is afraid of the water, she did put him in swim lessons as a kid. This saved his life years later. He didn’t panic. Now, he explained,
“I crash through the waves of the ocean but only as far as my mind will let me go. I’m ready to be free of this fear.”
So, we began to free the fear. We worked together for an hour. Jerry was amazing- focused, motivated and determined. And like so many of my adult participants (Resa #26, Fran #23, Brenda #18), Jerry got frustrated and I had to remind him to be easy on himself and have self compassion. He was able to learn how to breathe (inhale, exhale!) and did extremely well with FINIS fins. It was much more difficult to stay horizontal and on the surface of the water without fins, but now Jerry knows what it feels like to swim with proper technique and the more he practices, the more confident he will become. I remind my adult swimmers that they are not training for the Olympics. Swimming doesn’t have to be pretty- we don’t all look like Michael Phelps in the water. So substitute ‘pretty,’ ‘fast’ and ‘perfect’ with ‘efficient,’ ‘healthy’ and ‘life-saving.’
Jerry understands this, as he told me the next day, “I’m very hard on myself, baby steps don’t feel like progress to me. But I know if I want to be a good swimmer I’ll need to put some work in. I have developed some bad habits over 30+ years of swimming incorrectly. Breathing and understanding that at this point it’s about technique, not a race. I feel as if I’ve taken a step forward.”
You took quite a few giant steps forward in just one hour, Jerry! Take a look…
Special THANKS to Kehaulani at Wonderstruck Photography for the amazing photos! xo