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by Elaine K Howley

April 1, 2015

Tselane Gardner finds peace and joy in the water and in teaching others

Tselane Gardner, 48, of Rose Bowl Masters, didn’t grow up a swimmer. Rather, she had a few, limited interactions with a neighbor’s pool in the summers. “I didn’t really know how to swim, so I’d just play around in the shallow end and have fun,” she recalls.

But that all changed in 2004 when the then 37-year-old University of California, Irvine student decided she needed to learn how to swim before she graduated.

“I started taking beginner classes—doing the bobs and blowing bubbles, all that beginner stuff, and it was so much fun. Each year, I got more and more confident, and I achieved my goal of learning how to swim before I graduated in 2007.”

Around that same time, someone told her about Masters and she’s been swimming ever since. Though her schedule usually conflicts with organized workout times with her Rose Bowl Masters club, Gardner swims at least three times a week on her own during the weekdays and spends most of her free time on the weekends in or around the water.

If this were where Gardner’s swimming story ended, it would be lovely and inspiring. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of an adult finding swimming later in life and sticking with it as a fun way to spend her free time and get fit?

But for Gardner, enjoying swimming for herself was just the beginning. She soon realized that she wanted to share the “peace and joy” she finds in the water with others and she decided it was time to share the gift she’d been given. She started teaching others to swim.

“I taught my two nieces and then I started teaching lessons to other people. I told people, ‘I learned and I want you to learn,’” she says. “People from my church started finding out that I knew how to swim,” and suddenly Gardner’s new skill was in demand.

Last month, Gardner took her desire to help others learn to swim to the next level by completing a USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification course. So inspired is Gardner, who’s a full time doctoral student, that she scheduled her spring break around the class schedule. “I delayed [my break] to take this class.”

Gardner is pursuing a doctorate in psychotherapy from Alliant International University in Alhambra, Calif., and currently interns as a marriage and family therapist at the Heritage Clinic, a division of the Center for Aging Resources, in Pasadena, Calif.

Her interest in helping others cope with difficult times in life stems from her own struggles as a child and young adult. “I had endured a lot of physical and sexual abuse,” she recalls. “I never told anyone, and then I got married in 1997. I didn’t tell my husband that I went through all this stuff, but then one day, something triggered me and I shut down. I was suicidal and severely depressed and it all came up.”

She separated from her husband, thinking that would improve her situation, but it only got worse, she says, and that’s when she had what she describes as a nervous breakdown. She was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy and medication have helped, as has finding a spiritual path. The community and fellowship she finds at her church, with her friends and family, help keep her strong.

Through all the difficulty, she found what she says is her life’s purpose. “Reaching out and helping others, that’s my calling.” It’s no wonder that many members of her church have asked for her help in learning to swim themselves; Gardner says that being in the water is another way to connect with God.

“Every time I get in the water, it’s peace and joy. I get a combination of those two. There have been times when I have been really tired and I go swimming and it’ll totally lift me up. Many times when I didn’t even want to go, I do, and I leave there with joy. I come heavy and leave lighter.”

And if she’d never learned to swim, she might have missed all this. Gardner says she’s eternally grateful for having found a home—and a calling in teaching other adults—in the water. 


  • Human Interest
  • Adult Learn-to-Swim


  • ALTS
  • Biography