Can’t swim–it’s never too late to learn


From my hotel room window, I stared at an African American woman trying to escape the blazing Florida heat by cooling off in in the pool. However, something seemed a bit odd. This adult woman was struggling to keep her upper body submerged in waist deep water. Too shallow to stand up, yet too deep to sit down, she unsuccessfully tried stretching out horizontally on the pool stairs. She looked awkward and silly and I wondered why she didn’t just go into the deeper water. Then it hit me…she couldn’t swim.

If you like this blog post, see St. Paul’s adult swim program makes a splash with African Americans

“Wow,” I said to my husband. “Is that what I look like, when I’m in the pool?”

“Pretty much,” he replied. “But you won’t much longer, because you’re learning to swim.”

It’s been a long time in coming and even kind of embarrassing, but I am determined to become a swimmer before my 50th birthday and I only have a few months left to do it.

I know some people think that if I haven’t needed it so far, why bother doing it now?

Two reasons.

First, I’m tired of being like that woman in Florida. I want to be like Minnie Woods. Woods is a 91 year old African American woman in Saint Louis, Missouri who didn’t learn to swim until she was 62 years. Now, she is an aquatics instructor. Not only did she learn to swim, she also passed all the necessary training to become a certified aquatics instructor. She is an inspiration.

Second, statistically speaking, I’m on borrowed time. In a separate article I wrote about adults learning to swim, I noted some alarming statistics. In a nutshell, substantially fewer Blacks know how to swim and Blacks are more likely to die from drowning than Whites. The numbers are especially high here in the “Land of 10,000” Lakes.

I have tried to learn in the past. Thirty years ago, while in college, I took an intro adult swimming class. Ideally, after a semester’s worth of lessons taught by the the college swim coach, I should have been swimming like a fish. But a coach makes a lousy teacher. Each class he wore a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts and never once got in the pool. He was so convinced we could learn everything in the shallow we never went in the deep… until final exam. Suffice to say, panic set in and it was a disaster.

I tried again 15 years ago, this time at a nearby YMCA. The instructor was much better than the coach, however, I was a lousy student. I didn’t understand I needed to practice outside of class time. After the session ended, I pretty much stopped going to the pool and quickly forgot all I had learned.

Since then, I have been content to live my life as a non-swimmer. That is, however, until my ten-year-old son, who has been swimming since he was four, told me one day he was worried that if I ever fell in deep water he wouldn’t be strong enough to save me. I knew then it was time for me to learn.

Which brings me to this time. I’m spending my Saturday mornings at the Oxford Pool with nearly a dozen other adults all determined to become swimmers. The instructor is good and I’m putting in the practice time. They say, third time’s the charm.

So, no more hanging out in the shallow end of a pool, afraid to venture out past where my feet can touch the bottom. This year I become a swimmer. And although I may not become a swim instructor like Woods, I have set a goal for myself. Before my 51st birthday, I will complete a triathlon.