Article image

by Daniel Paulling

April 11, 2018

The U.S. Masters Swimming club provided an example of how to run an ALTS lesson program

The Bozeman (Mont.) Masters Swim Club started with a list.

Six members began meeting in February 2017 to plan their club’s adult learn-to-swim lessons program that would start two months later. They soon realized they needed to find a lot of volunteers—some to teach lessons, of course, but also one to take photographs and one with a background in marketing to pitch stories to local media outlets.

Although putting together adult learn-to-swim lessons can seem difficult for a U.S. Masters Swimming club or workout group, Bozeman Masters made it look easy. Extensive planning was key and has helped make a lasting impact. Club members taught 40 people how to swim last April.

“What it did for our community is it made our community aware there was Masters Swimming and that drowning is a real issue,” says Bozeman Masters swimmer Suzette Harkin, 71, who spearheaded the program. “It was the people that were in it that really promoted it because they’re ecstatic. They never thought they could swim or would swim, and they can actually swim.”

Harkin began asking teammates for help in January of last year, and the group’s training made them prepared. This is a vital step to helping those who haven’t taught swim lessons before as they face the challenge of teaching adults, Bozeman Masters swimmer Mary Robbins says.

“It just helped us to develop a rapport with the [fellow teachers] and a sense of commitment,” the 68-year-old Robbins says. “We had an opportunity to see what we were comfortable with in terms of the teaching part.”

Robbins connected well with a student who, like her, had a fear of the water before taking lessons as an adult. Robbins says she nearly drowned at age 10, something that gave her insight into her student’s anxiety when entering the water. Who better to work with someone who became frustrated or panicked in the water than someone who experienced the same emotions?

The lessons had a major impact on the students.

Kim DeBruycker, 58, knew the basics of swimming when she arrived for swim lessons, but she wanted to learn how to swim 400 meters as quickly as possible so she could pass a swimming test to become a divemaster. Her instructors helped her become more efficient, and she swam across the 50-meter pool, something she’d never been able to do, by the end of her lessons.

DeBruycker remembers the days she sat on bleachers to watch her children’s swim lessons and wonders what took her so long to do her own. She’s even considering joining Bozeman Masters.

Robbins, for one, would be happy to have her as a teammate.

“I remember one young woman who just said, ‘This is awesome. I feel so empowered,’” Robbins says. “She couldn’t get over it. It was so uplifting for me. I think everybody needs to learn to swim and be comfortable around water because we certainly have plenty of opportunities for it. The sooner you learn to swim, I think, the happier your life can be.”


  • Adult Learn-to-Swim


  • ALTS
  • Swimming Saves Lives Foundation
  • SSLF