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by Jerry McCormick

February 22, 2016

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 eight times in four weeks. Today is test day, and I’m nervous.

First up: breathing.

Chris tells me to bob up and down in the water. I take a deep breath before going under and exhaling all the air out.

Then, I have to tread water for one minute in the deep end.

Chris had taught me that treading is a life-saving skill, and it can keep you afloat. I scull with my hands and kick my legs to keep my head up. I could have gone longer than a minute, but I decided not to push it.

My test went on to cover several water-competency skills, including showing that I can jump into the deep end of the pool, find an exit and get out.

We had first practiced jumping in only a few days earlier, and it was scary in the beginning. Chris taught me to sit at the edge of the pool with my feet over the side. He then instructed me to push off with my arms and go into the pool. The goal was to get as far away from the wall as possible and start treading before swimming back.

Chris said that because I was just learning, this “sitting jump” is the best way for me to get into the pool. I was too nervous to stand and jump, so I told Chris I would practice that on my own. For now, sitting and jumping worked best for me.

To get out, I swam to the nearest exit and used a ladder to climb out of the pool.

Knowing I can do this gives me confidence. If I were at a home with a pool and I accidentally fell in, I know I can now swim to the side and pull myself out.

Next I had to show that I can swim across the pool. I put on my snorkel and fins and went to work. I knew I could reach the other side because I had done it in a previous lesson, but it’s still amazing for me to believe that I can do this. I kept my legs close together and kicked and used my hands like I learned to help get me from one end to the other.

The final test was to swim the length of the pool again—unaided. No fins. No snorkel. Just my body.

I had learned in my last lesson that I breathe best to my left side. So I took a deep breath and began to kick and stroke. I made it most of the way, but I had to stop.

Because of my obesity, I’m not in the condition I need to be, but I went as far as I could, took a rest, and then finished the lap.

And that was it.

I can swim. I really can swim. Is my form perfect? No. But that, Chris explains, takes time and practice. And there are drills I can use to help perfect the techniques he taught me.

I learned a lot from my swim lessons. Number one: I’m stronger than I think. I was nervous doing this, but once I let go of my fear and looked at this as an adventure, things began to gel. I no longer need to be afraid of the water. I can use what I learned to actually grow and have fun.

Two: This isn’t rocket science. During my lessons, I saw people of all ages get into swimsuits and hop into the water. Some used different techniques than the ones I learned, but all were enjoying the water. I saw both young kids and people older than I am taking lessons, as well.

Three: Swimming is going to be a fun addition to my workout routine. I’ve had some back problems, and being in the water gave me a workout without pain. I had begun to associate movement with pain, but now I have a way to exercise without straining my back.

This adventure was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

I can’t wait to get back in the pool.

Related Content

After 47 Years, It's Time to Learn to Swim
My First Swim Lesson: Surprises and Success
I. Am. Swimming!
Jerry McCormick's Adult Learn-to-Swim Experience


  • Adult Learn-to-Swim