Adult Swimming Lessons: Savitre struggles through fear, anxiety and several sprint triathlons BEFORE deciding to conquer her fears with swim lessons

 Third in a Series: Learning to Swim as an Adult

Savitre Tubrung - Finishing the swim leg of a triathlon | Chicago Blue Dolphins

Savitre Tubrung – Finishing the swim leg of a triathlon

“I was determined to learn to swim so I persevered and had the courage to overcome one of my biggest fears in life.”  – Savitre Tubrung

1980 – Bullied at Big Surf

I went with my family to Big Surf in Mount Prospect and rented a yellow raft to play on for the wave machine. While enjoying myself out on the waves, the raft bumped into a teenage boy, and for whatever reason, he took the raft with me on it and tossed us both into the deep end. I have no recollection how I got out of the water but distinctly remember that being the end of ever stepping foot in a pool (let alone a lake) ever again.

August 2007 – Triathlete Trauma:  I Didn’t Know How to Swim

Walking along Monroe Harbor in Chicago, I watched thousands of triathletes jumping into Lake Michigan, including my boyfriend Kobfa. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like this. I was in complete awe. Kobfa and I had just started dating, and he was into doing triathlons, something I had never witnessed to this magnitude.

I had never felt more inspired to try one myself. At that moment, I too, wanted to be a triathlete. The only problem, a MAJOR problem, was that I didn’t know how to swim.

Up until that very moment, I had never considered learning how to swim or feeling the need to ever learn.
I just figured I’d go through the rest of my life not knowing much about a lot of things (i.e. fix a car, create an app, finding a cure for cancer).

Year 2010 – First Triathlon

Three years passed.  I signed up for my first triathlon – the Chicago Super Sprint (.23 mile swim) – and thought to myself that it couldn’t be too hard to just get in the water, kick your feet around and spin your arms around like a windmill. I had run marathons and knew how to ride a bike. If I could just get through the swim, victory would be mine!

Before this Super Sprint race, I knew I had to get myself into a pool. I chose an XSport Fitness pool because I knew I would be able to touch the ground in the entire pool. While sitting at the edge of the pool, though, all my fears, the anxiety and traumatic experiences flashed through my brain. I thought that there was no way I was getting into the pool. Kobfa had just bought me my first pair of pink goggles with a princess charm and clear nose clip. I didn’t want these new toys to go to waste, so in I went. The water was freezing (in reality it was probably in the 70s)! I thought I was going to die of hypothermia. Kobfa said to just keep jumping around.

‘I felt like I was suffocating…’

Eventually, I warmed up enough to attempt “swimming.” I tried to stick my head in the water and realized quickly this was not going to happen. As I felt like I was suffocating, I decided to climb into the lane line and crawl across the pool with my head bobbing in and out of the water. Knowing it was going to be different than standing in the shower, I wanted to see what water moving past your face was going to feel like.

Kobfa swam on the high school team and knew that doing something like this was a huge No-No but didn’t stop me as he saw how anxious I was.

After making it across on the lane line, I decided to do a lap of “swimming” (stopping after every 3 strokes to stand and get air) before enjoying the rest of my time soaking in the hot tub and waiting for Kobfa to complete a workout. It probably took me a good 10 minutes to make it back down the pool lane as there was a lot of stopping, jumping around, and poking my head under water (probably to see if anything had changed).

Super Sprint Race Day

Triathlete finishing swim in triathlon

Despite her intense fears in the water, Savitre completed several super sprint and sprint distance triathlons BEFORE taking any swim lessons.

As they pulled the rope down behind me to close off the age group wave, I broke down and cried realizing this must have been the dumbest idea I’ve ever had. The music playing over the loud speakers was very intense. There was no turning back. I saw what I thought was a lifeguard standing in the water where the swim course was and thought maybe I could touch the ground on the entire swim (meaning I could just actually walk the whole thing). Wrong! It didn’t take long for me to realize I was completely wrong and that the lifeguard was hanging on to a lifeguard buoy.

Swallowing gallons of water, adjusting and readjusting my nose clip, flipping over on my back, gasping for air, holding back all the tears and finally doggy-paddling my way out to the swim finish, I completed my first triathlon swim (.25 miles).

The first words out of my mouth were, ‘I’m alive!!!’

I was filled with so much elation after completing the swim. I felt like I should’ve gotten my medal right then and there.

Year 2012 – Let’s Do This Again…

Two years later, I had forgotten how torturous the swim was and signed up for the Chicago Super Sprint again. I didn’t spend the time between these two races learning how to swim or getting myself more acclimated to the water. For some reason, I just thought that since I’ve already done it once, it’s GOT to be easier the second time around. Wrong again! It was just as torturous as the first time around, but again, I completed another triathlon.

Nonetheless, this didn’t stop me from signing up for TWO sprint distance races (.5 mile swim) in 2013 and attempting the Chicago Super Sprint once again.  All the water I swallowed must have seriously killed a few brain cells.

Year 2013 – And Again…

While training for my first sprint distance race (Iron Girl Pleasant Prairie), I did my open water practice swims in Lake Andrea (which is where the race was going to be held). Coach Ken Johnson, who was once also a Chicago Blue Dolphins client and student of Coach Fitz, held swim practices here for triathletes and wannabes alike. He swam at the back and brought up the rear.

My first attempt at Lake Andrea was an extremely memorable experience. I made it out about 100 yards when all of the sudden I felt my nose clip slipping. That’s when I began to do the invisible ladder climb. I stopped and realized I didn’t know how to tread and knew that if I had lost that nose clip I would be seriously doomed. Kobfa was with me and said to hold onto him. I told him my nose clip wasn’t staying on. My nose clip tends to slip easily due to my genetically inherited oily skin. He said, “I don’t have anything dry.”

Looking back now, this was a very funny comment since we were in the middle of the lake. At the time, it was not so funny. Within seconds Coach Ken swam up and threw a red lifeguard buoy to me for me to hold onto. He said most people have anxieties because they were not used to swimming with a wetsuit. I told him that it wasn’t that. I told him I had no idea how to swim, tread or hold my breath under water. He looked at me and had no words.

I looked back and the shore seemed far. I looked ahead and the other end of the lake seemed far. All I wanted to do at that moment was cry.

I held onto that buoy and came up with a plan to attempt a couple of strokes, but as soon as I popped my head up, he would need to throw the lifeguard buoy at me so I could rest on it and get air. Clearly, I hadn’t figured out how to get air while swimming. Alternating between resting on the buoy and doing 3-5 strokes, I managed to get myself out of the lake, eventually. It was a half mile across the lake, and it took me over an hour and a half.

Weeks had passed and after a couple more times of panicking my way through Lake Andrea swims, I went onto complete the Iron Girl race. The race consisted of swimming from one lifeguard platform to the next, flipping over on my back and being far from the most graceful sea creature you’d ever see.

Two More Races and I Still Can’t Swim

A month later, I was already signed up to do the Chicago Super Sprint AND the Chicago Tri Sprint distance race (I figured three times the charm). Yet again, I was going to attempt another race (or two) whilst not knowing how to swim. No one ever said I was the sharpest crayon in the box.

The Super Sprint was no different than previous years. As soon as a wave hit me, I swallowed the water, freaked out that my nose clip was going to fall off and basically doggy paddled my way out. Third Super Sprint and still nothing had changed. This was supposed to be the shortest triathlon distance, family friendly, and newbies-welcome race. The swim felt far from short, the water was definitely not friendly and I was too occupied freaking out to feel any cozy welcome.

Three-Day Free Pass

The Sprint was held the day after the Super Sprint. After my disastrous performance at the Super Sprint, I was more than ever ready to throw in the towel and not do the Sprint (or another triathlon in my lifetime for that matter). However, since Kobfa was going to swim alongside me, I figured this wasn’t going to be too bad. Boy was I ever wrong (again). The start of the race was a treading start. I still had NO IDEA how to tread.

I got a free 3-day pass to local YMCAs prior to practice and even had a lifeguard try to teach me. The only takeaway I got was “you have to stay calm and relaxed.” Was he kidding me?!?! How on earth was I going to stay calm and relaxed when I can’t touch the ground and I can’t get any air when my head is submerged under water?!?!

Grab a Kayak

My only plan to stay alive for this swim was to get in at the very last second so I didn’t have to tread and then get to the nearest kayak as soon as possible. Sure enough, I was the last one in (and out). The Chicago Tribune photo (by Jose M. Osorio) shows no other bike around as they were all gone by the time I got out of the water. *insert embarrassed face*

Adult Swimming Student Savitre Tubrung I Chicago Blue Dolphins

Triathlete Savitre Tubrung in the 31st Annual Lifetime Chicago Triathlon.

As soon as I got in I paddled like the dickens to get to the closest kayak and hang on. Once I got to the kayak, I knew the only way to get through this was to “swim” from one kayak to the next and regroup. I watched each wave after each wave swim past me looking at my watch wondering how long they would let me stay in the water. The only thing that kept me going and made me feel better was the fact that I wasn’t alone.

Kobfa kept talking to me and continued to encourage me. His calmness in the water helped to alleviate the anxiety. A group of us (strangers I didn’t know) had the exact same idea. As I poked my head up to grab onto the kayaks, I would see the exact same people doing the same thing. We encouraged one another at each stopping point and, eventually, victory was mine (ours)! I managed to stay alive again!

Depressed, Deflated and Insecure

That night I had all sorts of emotions running through my brain. I was super excited for completing another triathlon season alive and not going into cardiac arrest. However, I was also very sad about my swim ability. I kept replaying over and over in my head every moment (from Iron Girl to the Super Sprint to the Sprint race) all my panicking moments in the water. Just thinking about all those moments increased my heart rate and brought back all my fear, anxiety and frustration with being in water.

I couldn’t understand why after so many years since my traumatic experience at Big Surf, I was still reliving the fear. I also couldn’t understand why I couldn’t hold my breath under water and that one of my fears of doing these swims was losing my nose clip (the only piece of security blanket I had with me in the water).

But deep in my heart, I wanted to keep doing triathlons. I wanted to eventually conquer the Chicago Tri, and I wanted to be a triathlete. Although I had completed these triathlons, I still did not think I deserved the title of Triathlete. However, I knew I couldn’t keep going on like this (jumping in with zero swim skill and ability and the complete and utter fear I had for just being in water). A huge part of me even convinced myself that I just wasn’t meant to do triathlons and I would be best spectating Kobfa from the sidelines. *sigh*

The Constant Battle

I was never the fastest runner, strongest person or smartest person. I was the epitome of Jack of All Trades, Master of None. Unfortunately, at that moment, I felt like swimming was going to be the one thing in life I would just never learn or figure out. My world came crashing down as I lost confidence in myself not only as an athlete but in all aspects of my everyday life.

All my life, I’m in constant battle of trying to prove to myself that if anyone can do it, so can I. However, things never came to me as easily or naturally as it seemed for others. I was that person that had to work extra hard and put in extra time, constantly motivating and encouraging myself, and I had to remind myself that I know where I began and that my goal is no one else’s.

After thinking about doing future triathlons, I then remembered asking Coach Ken Johnson (after one of the lake swims) if he taught swimming lessons. He said he did but only in the Kenosha area. Because he knew we were from Chicago, he highly recommended Chicago Blue Dolphins. He went on to tell us about Coach John Fitzpatrick and Total Immersion swimming. I told Coach Ken that I did recall coming across their website not too long ago. Coach Ken said to ask for John Fitzpatrick if we decided to go.

October  2013: Coach Fitz

After being done with feeling bad for myself and wallowing in my sorrow, I jumped on the computer. I looked through the website for the pricing at Chicago Blue Dolphins and saw they had group classes and private lessons. Private lessons? Perfect! I was too afraid and highly embarrassed of not knowing how to swim, so I knew there was no way I was going to start out in a group environment. Also scared to take private lessons alone, I asked Kobfa if he would take private lessons with me. He agreed as he knew how important it was for me. I was prepared to invest in an expensive endeavor as I was not willing to settle for anyone other than the head coach.

Savitre and Coach Fitz | Chicago Blue Dolphins

Savitre and Coach Fitz

One day after work, we decided to stop by to check out the swim studio. When we walked in, we told the gentleman at the front desk we were interested in swimming lessons. A guy comes out from the back of the office and introduces himself and asked how he could help us. We told him that we were swimming in Lake Andrea and Coach Ken Johnson recommended we take lessons with some guy named Fitz-something. The guy (who just introduced himself) said, “John Fitzpatick?” We said in unison, “YES! That was the name!” The guy said, “I’m John Fitzpatrick (Coach Fitz).” Oh my goodness, we both couldn’t have been more embarrassed as he had JUST said that when he introduced himself.

For me, I was just nervous to be there and totally overwhelmed by the surrounding that I wasn’t really paying attention. I kept thinking, “Is this really happening? Am I about to really take swimming lessons as an adult?” I had never taken swimming lessons before. Could they handle someone like me? Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks? I was excited, nervous and anxious! However, more than ever, I was finally ready (for the first time in my life) to learn to swim.

Group Lesson Or Private?

After establishing introductions, Coach Fitz asked us what our swim level was. Kobfa said he swam all his life and on the high school swim team. I told Coach Fitz that I have no idea how to swim at all but will jump in lakes to do triathlons and panic my way through near death experiences.

Coach Fitz said the group lessons already started so we would have to wait until the next session. We told him that was fine because I didn’t want to do group lessons anyways. I asked him if it was possible to do private lessons and split up the hour lesson so that Kobfa and I could each do 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure Coach Fitz knew this wasn’t ideal but was going to let us as I went on and on about not being comfortable doing it by myself.

He suggested we come back another day and watch a group lesson to see how things were done and to check out the pool.

The Pool

Taking his advise, we came back to spectate a group class. We were told that the water was about 85 degrees and 3 feet deep. I had never seen anything like this before. Although the pool was only 3 feet deep you still had to climb up some stairs to just get in. It was hard to believe and more so hard to believe that the water temperature was 85 degrees. That would be paradise for someone like me who thinks 75 degrees in Chicago is still cold.

The pool wasn’t big. It looked more like a hot tub. I wondered how in the world everyone was going to swim AND where were they going to swim to. It fit 8 people comfortably when they sat around. However, the coolest part about all of this was that people would start swimming and not go anywhere. I could not understand how that was possible.

It was later explained to me that this was an endless pool and that a machine gets turned on to create a current to swim against. As you try to swim forward, the machine pushes water against you so you would never actually end up going anywhere. We stayed and watched most of the class session. Although it looked like they were having a lot of fun, it definitely confirmed that taking (private) lessons was going to be the way to go for me and a great investment! That was the first thing I was actually not wrong about!

November  2013: The First Lesson

Swim gogglesWhen we came back the following week for our first private lesson, we got there early.  I was super excited! After work, I quickly packed everything including a new swimsuit and goggles (gone were the days of my pink goggles) and rushed us out of the house. When we got there I remember telling Kobfa to get in first so I could see how high the water was for him. I saw it was below his chest and found comfort in that but still cautiously proceeded to make my way down the steps being sure to hold onto the railing for dear life. The water was definitely warm, I couldn’t believe it! Water alone is enough anxiety to deal with so I was so glad I did not have to worry about freezing to death.

The first thing Coach Fitz had us do was “swim” for a little bit (or whatever we thought was swimming) and then he videotaped us. I would die to see that clip today but at the time I watched it I thought I looked like a pro. After videotaping us, Coach Fitz replayed it and paused it along the way to tell us all the areas in which we needed to improve. Sure enough, there was a laundry list for me. However, I was surprised that Kobfa needed to improve in certain areas as well.

Missy Franklin Wears One

Then the question came…Coach Fitz asked, “Why do you wear a nose clip?” My first reaction was, “Why wouldn’t I?” I said, “I don’t know how to hold my breath under water and the water always goes up my head. I don’t like it when that happens because I don’t like the feeling of little fishes swimming in my head. And, I think my nostrils are extra wide because I’m Asian so it easily lets water in…it’s also my security blanket. I would definitely have a harder time being in the water without it.” Then I thought and continued, “Missy Franklin (five-time Olympic Gold Medalist) wears one.”

I could’ve gone on forever and ever about the pros of wearing a nose clip. Coach Fitz eventually stopped me and asked if I had sinus allergies to water. I said no. He then said that I didn’t need the nose clip. I looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Bubble Tea Straw

On our second private lesson together, Coach Fitz had me take the nose clip off. He taught us a standing drill where you would stick your head in the water and blow water out of your nose. Both Kobfa and I stood there trying to do this along with Coach Fitz.

Okay, here goes nothing, I thought. I stuck my head in and exhaled as hard as I could through my nose. After half a second (but what seemed like minutes), I popped my head up and saw that both Coach Fitz and Kobfa still had their heads in the water.  I was confused and asked Coach Fitz if we were trying to hold our breaths under water. He said no,  we were exhaling. I told him I was but ran out of air. He watched me do it again and then said to pretend to blow air through a coffee stirrer and not a bubble tea straw. I laughed.

Whenever I get bubble tea now, I am forever reminded of how to breathe. I told him that I didn’t have control of how much air came out of me. We then practiced just exhaling with our faces out of the water. After realizing I could actually control how much air came out of me, it was a matter of doing that with my head in the water. I tried and tried again but quickly learned that I didn’t have the control to exhale when my head was in the water because my anxiety level went from zero to a hundred in a nanosecond.

The Method: Bubble Bubble Breathe

Open water swimming at Ohio Street Beach in Chicago

Open water swimming at Ohio Street Beach in Chicago

After several epic failure attempts, Coach Fitz taught us the infamous Bubble Bubble Breathe. The Method: when your head is in the water, you say “Bubble Bubble” and then you turn your head to the side while taking a stroke and catch your breath. Saying Bubble Bubble is to help prevent water from going up the nose while still exhaling at a controlled rate. I tried and tried but just couldn’t get it. I had the whole Shedd Aquarium floating in my head by this point, and after watching Kobfa do it, I suddenly realized it was time to do private lessons separately.

Seeing how much I was struggling through this exercise, I knew it was a waste of money and time for Kobfa to be working on Bubble Bubble Breathe as he had experience beyond this drill. I was actually a little embarrassed for him when I saw him doing this drill.

On My Own

We talked to Coach Fitz and told him that we wanted separate private lessons. He knew that this was the way to go but was patient enough to let us figure it out. During my lesson, I would wear my nose clip and do all the swimming drills (Superman, Catch Up, Hot Dog Roll etc). However, while Kobfa had his private lessons Coach Fitz was nice enough to let me stay in the corner of the pool and practice Bubble Bubble Breathe. This was my chance to practice sticking my head in the water without a nose clip.

There was a mirror on the bottom of the pool that we would use to see how we looked and the timing of how we did things. I often dragged the mirror to the corner and just practiced. There were many frustrated attempts and lots of fishes floating in my head, but I never gave up.

Three months after starting private lessons, during one of Kobfa’s private lesson, I’m not sure how it happened but something automatically clicked. After several successes of doing Bubble Bubble Breathe in a row, I was beyond ecstatic. The day had finally come!!! I was finally able to stick my head in the water without a nose clip and not get water in my head, so I told Coach Fitz I was finally ready to attempt a private lesson without my nose clip. But, I wanted to keep it on the ledge close by just in case.

I Was Doing it!

I watched me in the mirror of the bottom of the pool without a nose clip doing Superman and actually swimming a couple of strokes without my nose clip. We all talked about how I should memorialize the nose clip. It was finally time to let go of that security blanket that I had known to grow and love. My new security blanket (which may be carried for the rest of my life) is Bubble Bubble Breathe. Whenever I get anxious or feel like I’m gasping for air, I still execute Bubble Bubble Breathe.

At that moment I felt like a true swimmer…that was until Coach Fitz had me do a hotdog roll and all of the sudden water went right up the nose. He told me to try again and I looked at Kobfa to tell him that I didn’t want to do it. I felt like I had come so far to finally surrendering the nose clip, that I didn’t want to do this one drill and go back to wearing a nose clip again. He kept asking me to try again, but tears started welling up in my eyes. Kobfa kept telling him that I just didn’t want to do it as I managed to start crying behind my goggles.

After Coach Fitz realized how much I didn’t want to do it, we moved on from it. I was sad because one minute I was feeling great and then the feeling of defeat came over me like a tsunami.

April 2014: Fast Forward

Chicago Blue Dolphins had Masters swimming and Fast Forward at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I would go and sit on the bench watching Kobfa at the Masters practice. Coach Fitz would continually try to encourage me to step away from private lessons and join Fast Forward. I knew I wanted to keep growing but I got very comfortable with the Swim Studio and was very fearful to swim with others AND step foot in deep water. Anthony, a long time Chicago Blue Dolphins client, came up to me and tried to tell me how great it was to do the Fast Forward class and that it’s really not that scary.

Swimming With The Big Kids In The Big Pool

When I finally decided to unofficially join Fast Forward, the first practice was at UIC in the 50 yard pool. I was excited to finally play with the big kids. When we got there, everyone jumped in with snorkels and nose clip and started to swim.

However, I was very confused. I didn’t understand why I was being taught to swim without my nose clip when everyone using it. Sitting at the edge of the pool, I told myself, “I can do this.”

I watched Kobfa jump right in and take off. The longer I sat there the more anxious I became. Moments later, I began to cry. I didn’t want to give up before I even started, but I had no idea how I was going to get in. The pool seemed ginormous with so many lanes. People were swimming fast in all sorts of directions and the lane seemed endless.

Swimming with the "big kids" in the Fast Forward program. | Chicago Blue Dolphins

Swimming with the “big kids” in the Fast Forward program.

Bob Up and Down

Coach Fitz asked me what was wrong, and I told him I was scared to get in. I also asked why people were wearing nose clips. He explained to me that it was easier to focus on certain drills with the nose clip and then suggested I get in, stand and bob up and down while exhaling slowly. This was always the go-to exercise to slow down the heart rate and get acclimated to the water. He then said to do a standing Bubble Bubble Breathe. After doing these two exercises several times, I was ready to start swimming.

Wow! It feels so weird to swim in a real pool, I thought. This definitely felt much different than swimming in the endless pool. I would swim to where I saw the floor drop and then stop, hold onto the wall and turn back.

Before I could officially join, Coach Fitz knew I had a few more things to learn to make me feel confident in the UIC pool.

Elevator and Sink the Coach

Coach Fitz had to somehow convince me that no matter what, I was not going to drown in the deep end. He had to prove to me that our bodies naturally float in water. So one day we took our private lesson from the Swim Studio to UIC. I had to hold onto the wall lightly and let go slowly. He said, “You’ll drop for a little bit, but stay relaxed because your body is naturally going to want to come back up.” It sure did!! We did this a couple of times.

Then we went to the shallow end, where he said he was going to lay on his stomach.  I would push him down. When he got to the point where I couldn’t reach him I would step on his back and keep my foot there until he waived his arms. Once he waived his arms, I would let go and watch him float right back up without doing anything (not even kicking or moving his arms). When he came back up to the surface, I was VERY impressed!!!…

Okay, Your Turn

…until he said, “Okay, your turn.” I looked at him like he had three heads. What the what?!?? “YOUR turn”?!?! Did he seriously think I was going to let him sink me?!?!?

I looked at Kobfa in fear and Kobfa said to just trust him. Well, here went nothing. I told Coach Fitz that as soon as I waved my hand to let me back up and that I wasn’t planning on staying down there long. As I prepared to let Coach Fitz sink me, I thought to myself he was going to feel really bad if this was the moment I drowned and everything goes wrong. Coach Fitz did not seem concerned or worried. He apparently knew what he was doing.

Coach Fitz said to remember to just stay relaxed. I laid down and down I went. As my nose almost touched the ground, I waved my hands and tried to stay calm as I felt my body slowly rise to the surface. Once I was back up at the surface I stood up and was super excited to still be alive but more excited about it actually working. That was definitely the proof I needed and the confidence I needed to start swimming with the big kids.

Swim Caps and Toys Galore

I was so excited to join Fast Forward because I got to purchase a swim toy-bag full of goodies. It had fins, snorkels, fist gloves, tempo trainer and my favorite, a nose clip. We used all these different toys depending on what drill we were practicing. Because I was swimming at UIC three times a week, I invested in a bunch of swim caps. The one with the bubbles was to pay homage to Bubble Bubble Breathe.

My first year in Fast Forward was spent with Anthony and Marion at the UIC small pool (25 yards). They were the coolest people and made swimming fun. I loved swimming with people that could relate to my anxiety and lack of endurance. Anthony was a little more advanced than me and Marion so she and I bonded very quickly. Marion had all sorts of wisdom to shed. When she saw me improving, she would tell me I belonged in the same lane as Kobfa. That was always hysterical, but I always appreciated her support and encouragement.

The First Swolf

Celebrating after the Chicago Triathlon

Celebrating after the Chicago Triathlon

For our first swolf test, Anthony had to swim 50 yards and I watched him in awe. I told him I was jealous he was able to swim down and back. He said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be there someday.” I didn’t believe him one bit but told him how happy I was to be swimming without a nose clip.

Eventually, I learned to swim down the lane and back and then rest for 5+ minutes. The first time Coach Fitz had me swim 75 yards, I climbed out of the pool. He asked me what I was doing. I was going to start in the deep end and finish in the shallow end. I told him that if he wanted me to swim 75 yards, I needed to sit on the pool deck to rest my arms. Again, I got a priceless reaction from him. Whenever I hang onto the wall in the deep end, I hold on with a death grip which tires my arms.

Kobfa was excited for me and even videotaped this moment. I watch this video still as a reminder of how I was determined to learn. I persevered and had the courage to overcome one of my biggest fears in life.

June 2017

It’s been three and a half years since I first stepped foot through the doors of Chicago Blue Dolphin. Since that first hand shake with Coach Fitz, I’ve successfully completed sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I even went back to do the Chicago Super Sprint (without a nose clip) and found myself thinking that was the BEST and shortest swim ever!

Most recently, in August 2016 I completed my first Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim) and felt I could officially call myself a Triathlete!

The Fab Four

The people that have played an integral role in my learning to swim would be Coach Fitz, Kobfa, Kyle, and Kordian.

Coach Fitz

Coach Fitz was there for me from day one and hasn’t given up on me yet. I know I haven’t been the easiest client to train/teach but Coach Fitz’s compassion, patience and understanding were major reasons I never gave up whenever I felt defeated or had setbacks. I would never be where I am today if I had a drill sergeant as a coach. Coach Fitz is completely the exact opposite of that. He is the nicest, kindest and most caring coach I’ve ever met. He enjoys seeing his clients improve and genuinely roots for them to succeed.


Kobfa has spent endless hours in the water (and lake) alongside me and always making sure I was okay. As tired as he was, he would make sure we got the lake swims in even if it meant driving up to Lake Andrea. Had I not met him, I may never have found any interest in triathlons, let alone swimming. Although I felt bad watching him do Bubble Bubble Breath, I would never have booked the first private lesson (for fear of doing it alone). It has completely changed who I am today.

Coach Kyle Reynolds

Savitre and Coach Kyle | Chicago Blue Dolphins

Savitre and Coach Kyle

Coach Kyle “Crocodile Kyle” Reynolds, what can I say? Going from Swim Studio to UIC pool to lake swim are monumental endeavors. Kobfa and I are always excited when Kyle coaches us. Coach Kyle remembered the first time that Kobfa and I stepped foot in the endless pool at Chicago Blue Dolphin. He was very aware of my ability. His calmness and humor is what has me going back year after year to the lake with Chicago Blue Dolphin. I’ve learned so much about swimming in the lake that you wouldn’t normally do in a pool from Coach Kyle.

Last year, when I had the biggest setback in swimming, I emailed Kyle explaining all that had happened. At the next lake swim, he constantly checked up on me to see if I was okay. We also turned treading by the half mile stick (at Ohio St Beach) into “Comedy Hour with Kyle.” He was able to have us practice treading and get my mind off of the deep water. I dream to swim like Kyle in the lake someday. He glides through the water like it’s nonexistent and swims around you like a merman; so swift and so graceful.

Kordian Zawisza

Although Kordian Zawisza is no longer with Chicago Blue Dolphins, I want to thank him for his enthusiasm and support. One day (before joining Fast Forward) when Kobfa was doing Masters, Kordian let me play in my own lane. I told him that I just wanted to practice some of the deep water drills Coach Fitz had taught me. Kordian was completely cool with me doing my own thing. He never forced me to do anything that made me uncomfortable, yet pushed me to see what I could do. When I did a few strokes in front of him, he noticed how quickly I tired out.

The words I’ll never forget that day was, “You’ve got to breathe through the swim.” He compared it to meditating. He said when you meditate, you have to focus on the breathing. That would keep you calm, centered and focused. No matter what body of water I’m in, I automatically hear Kordian say, “You’ve got to breathe through the swim.” We swam with Kordian for a very long time when Chicago Blue Dolphin moved to Lake View High School. Because of Kordian’s motivating and inspiring nature, I am in Level 2 today.

The Fitz Bitz

Three and a half years later, Kobfa and I are still with Chicago Blue Dolphin. We’ve seen people come and go. Every year, we’ve made some of the best friends at Chicago Blue Dolphin. These are the people I call The Fitz Bitz (the best swim support crew ever). Without these people to talk to, laugh together, complain together and cheer each other on through our successes, this could’ve been a lonely journey.

So to my fellow Fitz Bitz, I thank you!

Marion, Anthony, Alex, Liz, Gigi, Gadget Joe, Louise (I miss your Irish accent and Kobfa misses his favorite swim buddy), Tyron (thanks for telling us about the Spit, that’s by far the BEST goggle defogger ever), John Ramos (I know I’ll see you at many more races to come), Norman (my SBFL-swim buddy for life), Jeff (my OWSBFL-open water swim buddy for life).

As I look back on my journey, I get choked up remembering all the good, the bad and the ugly. Taking lessons at Chicago Blue Dolphin has definitely been one of the best decisions I’ve made in life. I know I still have much more to learn and look forward to continue to grow.

Prior to Chicago Blue Dolphin, my only goal was to not live in fear while attempting a super sprint triathlon. I never thought I’d say this, but stay tuned as I am hoping to conquer some more Half Ironmans. And the ultimate goal: my first Full Ironman at Lake Placid 2018 (a 2.4 mile swim)! One day I will be an Ironman, and I am confident that Chicago Blue Dolphin will get me there!

(** 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.) 


  1. You have a great story Savitre! I miss Lake Michigan, the CBD gang and my favourite swim buddy Kobfa!

    • Louise! My swim buddy! How are things going? Hope you’re getting in the pool wherever you are now. I’ll always keep an open lane for you. Awaiting your return to CBD 🙂

    • Louise!!! You’re Alive!!!!! *big hugs*

      One day I hope to swim like you…a torpedo! :o)
      (I’ll never forget how you zipped right past me in the water during the Chicago Tri like I was just sitting there. LOL)

      Keep on swimming!! Keep on being a ROCKSTAR!

  2. Hey Hunny! What a great read! It really brings me back to all the times we’ve had in the water! It’s awesome that it’s documented… and it’s awesome that our experience with Chicago Blue Dolphins has been nothing less than great!!

    • Hunny Boo!!! How you’re still with me after all these years of putting up with my nonsense in the water is unbeknownst to me! It takes a very special person with A LOT of patience!

      Thanks for continually believing in me and continually being by my side to help make my dream come true. I loved that you’ve been there (literally) from day one! <3 <3 <3

  3. Savitre, after reading your store I felt like I was siting with you all over again when you first started your Journey. It’s like I would tell you you’re a lot stronger than me because you actually going into that water not being able to touch the bottom and not seeing what’s beneath you. I could see her fear. You set your goal and I know you can. Accomplish it. Great story

    • Tony!!! Ah yes, all the days of us arguing about you telling me all these great things about me and how you were confident I’d get there. I never once believed a word you said.

      You were right. :o)

      Thanks for being there for me when I got down and depressed with myself. I appreciated all the support. I also appreciated all the endless hours you spent listening to me tell you play by play about all my swimming lessons from day one!

      You’re the bestest!!

  4. Damn! What a great story! If you ever get bored with your job, consider writing! You’re great at it! So impressed with your courage and drive.

  5. Wow. That was an awesome read! You’re an inspiration! See you in the pool.

    • Thanks Jon!!
      Yes, see you in the pool…and at Arizona!!!! :o)

      I’ll never forget the time I did my first Chicago Sprint and you were a volunteer at the swim out. All I remember telling myself was…just get got Jon!…and I did!
      Thanks for the preferential treatment in helping me unzip my wetsuit! You’re the bestest!

      Also thanks for being there for me at Racine this year!!!…
      You have NO idea how much I appreciated your support!!

  6. Savitre,
    I always knew you were a determined athlete- Ironman in training! How inspiring a story, and knowing you and spending time together at Lake Andrea talking about who was going to be slowest across the lake! I am proud of what you have overcome, I wish I lived closer to the city to swim with you and Kofba.

  7. Savitre,
    I always knew you were a determined athlete- Ironman in training! How inspiring a story, and knowing you and spending time together at Lake Andrea talking about who was going to be slowest across the lake! I am proud of what you have overcome, I wish I lived closer to the city to swim with you and Kobfa.

    • Janet!!!
      My Lake Andrea Pal for LIFE!!!!!
      I’ll never EVER forget the first time we met!
      I saw you with your sleeveless wetsuit and thought, “oh, she must be a pro!” LOL

      I do remember racing you to come in last LOL :o)
      You were also so goofy but your energy is what kept me going.

      You, me and Brooklyn Barb endured so much but together we conquered Lake Andrea!

      Remember our muscle man post race pic after our first Iron Girl race?
      That’s my ALL time fave!!!! :o)

  8. Janet!!!
    My Lake Andrea Pal for LIFE!!!!!
    I’ll never EVER forget the first time we met!
    I saw you with your sleeveless wetsuit and thought, “oh, she must be a pro!” LOL

    I do remember racing you to come in last LOL :o)
    You were also so goofy but your energy is what kept me going.

    You, me and Brooklyn Barb endured so much but together we conquered Lake Andrea!

    Remember our muscle man post race pic after our first Iron Girl race?
    That’s my ALL time fave!!!! :o)

  9. Savitre!

    Today your name popped up in my head, I googled you and up came your awesome article! I immediately thought back to swim class in high school when you asked me to teach you how to dive. My greatest moment seeing you finally do it and how excited we were!!! Glad to see you are well and pursuing your dreams 🙂

    Your old friend,

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