Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 42 and a mom of two kids, ages five and nine. I’ve worked in the advertising world for 18 years and live in Seattle. I’ve always been pretty active and love to be outdoors walking, running and hiking.
What motivated you to learn how to swim?
In early summer 2009, the economy was terrible, and I got laid off from a job I’d been at for five years. I was heartbroken and felt like I lost my family — dramatic but true. Jobs were hard to find, so to fill my time I decided to train for a sprint triathlon. Sprint triathlons are short-distance triathlons, with a 750-m swim, 20-km bike ride and a 5-km run. I was turning 30 that year and thought fulfilling a big goal would help boost my mood. I only had two months to train and knew that running and biking would be no problem. The big obstacle was that I had zero idea how to swim. As a kid, I’d always gotten away with holding my nose and dog-paddling, but couldn’t possibly do that in an open-water lake swim in Lake Washington. And the truth was I had a pretty big fear of the water. When I was in the fifth grade, my older cousin drowned. And not only did it scare me, but it terrified my parents. It paralyzed them to the point that they would never encourage me to swim or put me in situations where water was the focus.
Can you describe the first swim class you signed up for?
Since I wasn’t working at the time, I got on a community website and signed up for swim lessons at my nearest community pool. I did all the things necessary for a new swimmer: bought a one-piece, goggles and the dreaded swim cap. The day of my first lesson, I geared myself up and headed to the community pool. I immediately realized that this lesson might not work when the only adult in the locker room dressed to swim was me. The rest were young kids. I headed out to the pool and, to my surprise, realized I had signed up for a first-time swimmer’s class and there were zero adults and only very young kids in my class. I’m talking six-year-olds! The instructor felt as awkward as I did. I made it about 10 minutes before sprinting to the bathroom, quickly dressing and getting the heck out of there. At that point, I thought I might have to quit the triathlon because I was not going back to that lesson. But I really wanted to learn to swim in order to accomplish my “30-year-old” goal and to prove to myself I could do it.
Did you find a class for adults, and did that work out better for you?
I talked to my parents that night and they offered to pay for me to take private lessons and encouraged me not to quit. We all realized that accomplishing this goal was a way for our family to heal after losing my cousin so many years before. So, after some extensive research, I found a local woman who teaches adults to open-water swim. She was also a triathlete, so it was the perfect fit. I spent the next eight weeks taking lessons from her, three times a week, at either pools or lakes in Seattle.
Did learning to swim have any frightening moments?
Yes … I was scared almost every time. But I knew I had to push through and the instructor was so great. She would swim next to me so that if I got scared, I could look over at her or stop and take a breath and she would be right there. She didn’t make me feel like the scared little kids in my first class, but instead like an adult conquering a lifelong fear.
Did you learn to swim?
Yes! I completed my first (and last) triathlon on September 20, 2009. My family was at the finish line sobbing and my husband held up a sign showing his support.
Do you still use your swimming skills?
Not all the time, but sometimes I have to get in our neighborhood pool and show my kids what’s up.
What advice would you have for other adults who are interested in diving in?
Do it. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but once you are, and find someone who is willing to support you, it’s all worth it.
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