“I had polio as a child. I fully recovered, but it took a couple of years. When other kids were learning to swim, I was too weak to participate. So I never learned how to do it properly and have always been envious of people who could swim the right way. I like water but can’t swim very far. I can float and tread water, but can’t swim like I see others do. I do not put my face in the water. Has always been a dream to be able to swim correctly. No one ever showed me how.”
I wanted to be the person that finally showed Sandy how. When I started Project: Face in Water eleven months ago, I had no idea I would help someone’s dream come true. For me, the most shocking detail of Sandy’s story was when he told me, “I am 68 now, enjoy excellent health, and live on a sailboat with my wife. I would love to learn to swim properly especially since I am on the water a lot. Just not in it.” I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that someone lives on a sailboat and isn’t completely comfortable in the water. I wanted to do this as much as Sandy! Thankfully, Michael and Kassandra at The Swim School San Diego once again offered the use of their pool.
So, Sandy showed up for his lesson with the giddiness of a teenager. His wife came along to watch, film and provide moral support. She shared her frustration of not being able to teach him herself, as I often hear from people that come to me for lessons. There’s something about teaching a loved one that is difficult. Maybe it’s the vulnerable state the learner must put himself in, the added patience that the teacher must show, or the instinct to protect a loved one. Regardless of the reason, she quietly watched and filmed and smiled. And when Sandy became excited, gaining the confidence to push himself further and further, she nodded her head as a sign of approval.
Sandy was an awesome student. He listened, watched, then went for it. When he couldn’t get something the first time, he became frustrated. I reminded him that in just ONE HOUR he was accomplishing more than he had in 68 years. Then he would nod his head laughing and try again. The most frustration set in when the fins came off. Taking away the buoyancy that helped keep the body in proper alignment, along with fatigue setting in, was tough to conquer. But he did. And when he understood a skill right away, he would ask to do it again. And again. And again. He’d yell to his wife to watch him and proudly show off his new abilities.
My favorite part of teaching Sandy was filming him. I’d show a short video of his strokes and he’d watch with wide eyes, amazed that the person on that video was him. He’d shout, “You’ve got to see this!” His wife would calmly tell him that she did see it, that she was watching everything from the poolside. He’d reply, “Well you haven’t seen it from this angle!”
By the end of the hour, Sandy was overwhelmed with emotion. He was overjoyed to be swimming properly, tired (yet exhilarated) from the work he did, and excited to take it a step further. His confidence was booming as he asked me, “So, how long do think until I can swim a mile?”
Sandy’s lesson was incredible and I am reminded of this as I look through these wonderful photos that my friend, Kehaulani from Wonderstruck Photography, took. There is some serious skill behind that camera. She has a way of taking a simple interaction between people and pulling out all of the emotion behind it. I don’t know how she does it, but I am forever grateful to her for volunteering her time and showing me a whole side of my project that I could never have seen on my own. I mean, look at this picture she took of Sandy at the end when she asked him how he felt…no words needed. Check out this video of Sandy’s dream come true…