The Upper Valley Aquatic Center (U.V.A.C.) is a place where fun and water safety rub shoulders with fitness and skill mastery. With a grant from the US Masters Swimming Saves Lives Foundation U.V.A.C. offered affordable adult learn-to-swim lessons this winter. The 5-week sessions began in January and more than thirty adults took the plunge and became swimmers.
Tucker Garrity one of the lifeguards who helped team teach this series summed it up best, “Adults are fun to teach, they want to be there, their time is limited so they focus on their goals.” One student shared, “I like the one on one instruction along with the support of being in a group.” Repetition is key when acquiring a new skill but students can get caught up in frustration when progress feels slow. With that in mind, we change things up. Students rotate between different teachers and each class we build on previous drills. We introduce new challenges each class. All the students remember the first time they make it into the competition pool. We bring them together so they can see what each other is doing and then break out again into small groups for more focused attention. Also, we let them focus on what they want to learn each class. At the end of every class we come back together and share our successes or frustrations. What we’ve all come to see is that the more you can laugh and enjoy yourself in the water, the easier is to learn new skills.
Chances are if you haven’t learned how to swim some of the following applies to you:
“I can’t put my face in the water.”
“I can’t tread water” “
“I can’t put my face underwater without holding my nose”
“I panic if I’m over my head “
“I never learned how to swim with strokes and breathing”
What is amazing is how quickly students move from the place of I can’t to I can.
Various motivations brought the adults to class. For some the price was right. With the grant underwriting the cost, the cost per class was $3.00 per lesson and half that if all ten classes of the session are attended. For some a moment arrived when unknowing became intolerable. One student shared he was a new parent who didn’t want his child to develop the same fear of the water that he had. Another student shared that he’d watch his family enjoying the water and wanted to get in and enjoy the fun too. One student shared he’d tipped a canoe the previous spring. Another student needed to pass a swim test to get his Dartmouth diploma. For another student it took a mini freak out moment while snorkeling on vacation to realize that learning how to swim and be comfortable in deep water was a priority. Not every student was afraid. There were plenty who could get along in the water but wanted to refine their strokes and swim more effectively.
Whatever the motivation, UVAC strives to teach in a welcoming, supportive and fun environment. The instructors managed the multitude of emotions and skill level. A fun dynamic developed in the first session where we had a teacher from Hartford High in the class and students working as lifeguards and instructors. Another positive benefit of group classes is the “camaraderie” of having classmates while learning to swim. We teach skills in component parts. Drills for kicking, breathing, floating, sculling, bobbing are all geared towards breaking the skills into manageable parts. Those who are new to the skills learn alongside those who are reviewing skills or unlearning bad habits. The instructors were described as “unpretentious down to earth group of experts.”
Swimming is different than other sports because you have to think about your breathing. Getting comfortable with rhythmic breathing while learning to balance your various body movements is the challenge. The pay back is that when you swim, you turn off one of your senses, hearing. As students develop skill and comfort in the water they come to understand the relaxing nature of swimming.
Students shared some of the surprising and inspiring results of learning to swim. For some just being able to float comfortably and enjoy it is a huge accomplishment. Once the air exchange and arm coordination comes together students feel a real sense of accomplishment. Another student shared that she’d begun swimming before work and that it helped her manage her stress and that she’d gone down one dress size. Another student has moved on to join the Master’s Swim group and is on her way to greater mastery of skill and endurance. We’ve had mothers and daughters learning together, mothers and sons, co-workers learning together and friends sign up together. One evening was especially memorable when a student who felt her progress was slower than others was able to swim the length of the pool without stopping. Afterwards she shared that her goal was to make one length of the pool using the freestyle stroke without stopping. We knew she’d been afraid to put her face in the water when she first started but what we didn’t know was that she’d battled illness and injuries for the last several years. She reached her goal on the same day as her fifth anniversary of being cancer-free. Sharing that with the class meant a lot to the others as well because you feel a part of something bigger than your own fears and anxieties. Like the day someone makes it into the competition pool and is able to tread water and move through the anxiety of being in water over their heads. Classmates cheer you on and share their own success. While we talk about the importance of feeling safe and comfortable in the water at UVAC, students this winter learned the added benefit of getting stronger and gaining a sense of accomplishment. And perhaps that is what made the adult swim lessons such a success. The willingness to show up each week, do things that scare you or make you feel silly and keep on trying while making friends in the process. Thanks for all the hard work!
by Suzanne Curtiss
UVAC Swim Instructor and Lifeguard