Learning to swim as an adult can seem like a daunting challenge, particularly if you’ve avoided swimming for years. But sometimes, taking a plunge in the deep end can offer a plethora of benefits, as writer Sanmeet Kaur has been finding out.
I’ve always wanted to swim. The feel of the cool blue water, of just being afloat, my body not doing a huge amount of work but being lifted by the water – that’s a feeling I’ve dreamt about.
It’s not like I’ve never swum before; when I was eight, I went to my first ever swimming lesson at a local pool in west London. I remember the thrill of jumping into the pool and racing my school friends to collect the most objects thrown to the bottom of the pool. I only managed a few sessions before we had to move to a new borough, and although I instantly fell in love with my new home, moving was marked by a tinge of sadness that my swimming dreams had come to an end.
My new school didn’t offer any lessons so with that died any aspiration of learning to swim. Over the years I had a niggling thought at the back of my head that I should learn – take that big leap and jump into the water. But the older I got, the scarier the prospect of throwing myself into a pool felt.
Learning to breathe underwater
In my adult years, poor body image kept me out of a swimming costume and therefore out of a pool. But 2020 changed all that. I realised that, thanks to the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere, I didn’t care how I looked.
When the next holiday came around post-lockdown, I wanted to jump boundlessly into the water, no longer afraid. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be in the water. With every lockdown that came, I sat waiting with bated breath to know when the gyms and pools would be allowed to reopen. And as soon as restrictions lifted, I signed up to swimming lessons at my local pool.
The first lesson was terrifying. I spent ages in the changing rooms taking deep breaths and gearing myself up before inching my way to the teaching pool. The teacher beamed as he saw me: “You’re new, right? OK, hop in.” He said it so casually, but inside, my heart was beating so fast. I carefully climbed down the small steps into the pool and stood by the wall holding it onto it as if the water would wash me away if I let go.
Accepting that failure is part of the process
The second lesson began well. I entered the pool with relative ease and was raring to get going. My breathing lesson last week had given me a bit of confidence that maybe I could actually do this thing. We began the same way, with the teacher asking me to put my head underwater and to practise breathing, but this time, I couldn’t manage blowing bubbles out of my nose.
Every time I tried, I’d panic and come back up disappointed and dismayed. I’d had a bad day at work and my brain couldn’t compute having to think so hard about the simple act of breathing. This time, I raced home in floods of tears.
Sometimes, having someone believe in you is all you need
By the end of my third lesson, I was ready to admit defeat; perhaps swimming just wasn’t for me. As I was summing up the courage to leave the pool, my teacher said something that struck a chord: “Once you master the breathing, you’ll be off swimming in no time. This is hard but I believe in you.”
And that affirmation was all it took for me to carry on. Somebody else believed in me.
I’m now three months in, and during my latest lesson, I got in the pool without wincing, immediately dunked my head underwater and kicked off from the wall. Taking long strokes with my arms – making sure to tap my thigh lightly to make sure I was stretching far enough – I pushed the water as hard as I could. My teacher said this technique would help me go faster and he was so right!
Turning swimming into a life-long habit
Every time I reached the halfway point in the pool, I’d look over and he’d be beaming and giving me a reassuring thumbs up. When I finally returned to rest at the poolside, he said: “Look how far you’ve come. You’ve made so much progress. Don’t forget that!” It’s amazing to think that just a few months ago, I was complaining that he was moving too fast and that I wasn’t capable of swimming.
Learning to swim isn’t as scary as I thought it would be and now all I can think about is why I didn’t learn to do it sooner. It’s so much fun and once you get the hang of it, it can be an incredible workout. I’ve even made some friends down at the pool, and each week, we smile at each other, silently proud of the progress we are making and that we are privileged enough to learn a new skill.
Being vulnerable and actively participating in something that you know you’re not good at or confident in can be extremely daunting as an adult. How often do we learn something new after school?
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It’s amazing to see new people starting their swimming journey and learning to breathe just as I did. Last week, I noticed my teacher telling a new pupil: “Look at her and do what she’s doing.” I looked to see where he was pointing and to my surprise, I realised that he was pointing at me.
Learning to swim has gone beyond being able to stay afloat in water. Conquering my fear of breathing underwater has given me the confidence boost I so desperately needed and the pool has become a weekly habit that adds structure to my week.
On weekends, I go to the pool to show off my latest progress to my boyfriend, and that’s when the childlike wonder and excitement that I was so keen to regain comes flooding back.
Keen to take the plunge? Improve your muscular endurance first by having a go at one of our bodyweight workout videos over on the Strong Women Training Club.
Image: author’s own
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