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I. Am. Swimming!

My ALTS Experience—Part 3: A major accomplishment in my sixth lesson

Jerry McCormick | February 8, 2016

I’m doing it. I. Am. Swimming!

But first, let’s rewind 55 minutes:

My swim instructor, Chris Holley, and I are outside in the pool. It’s a cool, crisp day in San Diego, and dozens of people are in the water. It’s my sixth swim lesson. When I started three weeks ago, I could not swim, and I was scared of the water.

Chris tells me that by the end of this lesson, he wants me to swim across the pool.

I’m like, “Huh, what? Swim across where?”

He tells me to trust him and that he knows I’ll be able to do it.

But first, we need to add a couple of skills and tools to our swimming arsenal.

He introduces me to proper arm strokes and explains how my hands are going to help me get across the pool.

I stand facing the wall and hold on with one hand to practice a windmill-like motion with my free arm. I stretch my free hand out in front of me – like I’m reaching for something I want – and then scoop the water and push it down to my thigh. Then my hand comes out, circles forward over my head, and lands back in the water in front of me.

It’s a lot to understand. It’s a lot to coordinate, too.

Chris corrected my form. Once I got it, Chris asked me to if I was ready to add kicking.

We learned in an earlier lesson that my ankles are fairly stiff. (I’ve been walking on them for the last 47 years!) So we would try fins today to help me point my toes.  

At first, I stumbled and fumbled with the fins. But I kept at it, and found that not only do the fins help keep my feet in the proper position, but they give me an extra boost and some speed, too.

Chris also taught me how to properly use a snorkel. Using a snorkel would let me concentrate on swimming without having to stop to breathe, he said. I had not yet learned to turn my head to get air.

I wasn’t used to breathing in and out through my mouth. And some water got up my nose and freaked me out. But after a few tries, I got the hang of the snorkel, too.

Chris told me to hold on to the wall and dip my face into the water with the snorkel. Once I got comfortable with that, I started kicking while still holding onto the wall.

At first, I remembered to kick but not breathe. Then I would breathe but forget to kick. But it wasn’t long before the two synched.

It was time to put the breathing, strokes and kicks together. Would I get across the pool before the lesson ended?

The first time I tried, it was not pretty. I went just a few feet and had to stop because water was coming inside the snorkel. The second try, I wasn’t kicking hard enough, so I didn’t make it far.

But on the third try, the next thing I knew, I was on the other side!

To say I was shocked is an understatement. I took a moment to take it all in. Then I swam across again and again to make sure it was real.

The second time was better than the first, and the third time was better than the first two.

I began to get choked up. Was this really happening?

Yes. I. Am. Swimming!

My ALTS Experience Article Series

My ALTS Experience—Part 1: Overcoming a lifetime and culture of fear
What is it like to learn to swim as an adult? We asked journalist and...
My ALTS Experience—Part 2: Quieting the inner voices
Driving to my first swim lesson, a million thoughts were swimming through my...
My ALTS Experience—Part 3: A major accomplishment in my sixth lesson
I’m doing it. I. Am. Swimming!
My ALTS Experience—Part 4: The Last Lesson and Water Competency Skills Test
It’s our final swimming lesson. My instructor, Chris Holley, and I have met...
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About the Author—Jerry McCormick

Jerry McCormick, 47, is a journalist in San Diego. He grew up in a nonswimming family and lived with a fear of water that kept him from being able to enjoy the beach and backyard swimming pools. He wanted to learn to swim to set an example for his family and to start an aquatic exercise routine to lose weight.

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