First in a Series: Learning to Swim as an Adult
“I was 35 years old. I didn’t know how to swim. And more than that, I had an active fear of the water. I had such a phobia that I would hold my breath when I washed my face.” —Megan Rooney, Oak Park
Taking that First Step
When Megan turned 35, she decided enough was enough. She was embarrassed about not being able to swim, and she knew it was clearly limiting the kinds of things she could do on vacation with her husband. She searched online for swim lessons in Chicago and found that Chicago Blue Dolphins offered private adult swim lessons, which is what she wanted. “It was really important to me to have private instruction,” she says. “I would have been too nervous and too embarrassed to do a group class.” **
When she walked into our Swim Studio for her first private lesson with Coach Elia in January 2016, she jokes as says, “I knew I had a real phobia because I never once worried about how I looked in my bathing suit. I was more nervous about the actual lesson.”
Breaking through the Fear
While many adults have a total fear of the water, Megan was comfortable standing in the pool at the Swim Studio. This meant that she and Coach Elia were able to start with exercises to overcome her fear of putting her face in the water—bubbling water in and out. She even had homework assignments to practice blowing bubbles in a bowl of water or in the bathtub. As an attorney who travels a lot, Megan spent many hours in the soaking tub of her hotel rooms wearing goggles and bubbling in and out.
Megan says Coach Elia was excellent at identifying her anxieties and applying strategies to work through them. “She always pushed me just far enough to make sure I was progressing and doing the things that scared me, but never in a way that was too much or where I felt unsafe or scared,” Megan says. “It was just the right balance.”
From Bubbles to Sidestroke
Once she became comfortable putting her face in the water, Megan worked up to the elementary breaststroke and the backstroke. She’s currently learning the sidestroke, which is the the stroke lifeguards use to carry a swimmer from the water.
Why is Megan learning the sidestroke? When she enrolled in swim lessons, she set three specific goals, which she shared with Coach Elia. “The goals I had set are a little unusual, and I appreciate they were willing to design my lesson plan according to my goals,” she says. Her goals were:
- If she fell into the deep end of the pool, she wouldn’t panic and would be able to swim to the side.
- Swim heads-up breaststroke to the pool bar and not get her hair wet.
- Take the drink from the pool bar and swim back across the pool without spilling it.
Megan and Coach Elia are currently working on Goal #3, which involves the side stroke. And this summer, for the first time, Megan bought a pass to her local pool. One Sunday, she spent the day at the pool and felt confident enough to hop in and swim a couple laps. “That’s something I never would have dreamed I’d be able to do 2 years ago,” she says.
From ‘Embarrassed’ to Proud
When she started taking lessons, Megan would often come after work, which meant leaving her office with a swim bag in tow. She decided to tell people she was taking lessons. Although she said it was a little embarrassing at first, “what I found is that there are a lot of adults who don’t know how to swim,” she says. “What I hear most frequently is, ‘Oh, I can swim to save my life or I can only doggy paddle.’ I started being much more open about it and talking about it. I’m very grateful for that.
“I’m really sad I didn’t learn as a child because I see the children at CBD who are learning through play and fun, and they really have a sense of themselves in the water through that. I didn’t. I came from a place of fear and anxiety.”
Advice for Other Adults
If you’re an adult who doesn’t know how to swim or has a fear of the water, Megan encourages you to consider lessons. “There’s no better feeling than addressing a fear, and working with an experienced coach or studio like CBD is the way to do it,” she says. “They’ll give you the foundation you need to enjoy water.
“When I took these lessons, I thought it was just going to be so I could be safe. But now I enjoy it and have a new sense of confidence. I would encourage people to give it a try. You’re not the only adult who’s ever done this….I can’t say enough nice things about my coach and the experience. You can go from the absolutely beginning, and they will get you where you need to be.”
(** Note: We sincerely appreciate Megan being open and sharing her story with us. We’d like to emphasize that many adults who cannot swim are embarrassed by that fact. They often feel like they’re alone, when in fact, that’s not the reality at all. The American Red Cross estimates that 54 percent of Americans cannot swim or have not mastered all five of the basic swimming skills.)