Most people learn to swim when they’re a kid. I didn’t. I hated having the water on my face and was constantly in the bottom set at school swim class, pussying about with the float and wishing the other kids weren’t so splashy. I practised gymnastics (trampoline) from the age of 6 until 16 (when a rather nasty accident meant my shoulder no longer stayed put in its socket) and was never really interested in learning to swim. It was scary and I wanted no part in it.
Fast forward a few years and I hated the fact that I couldn’t swim. I grew up by the seaside and couldn’t go out in the sea, jump off the groyns and paddle out round the cliffs in a dinghy. I started skating and desperately wanted to learn how to surf but couldn’t think of anything worse than tumbling mercilessly in the waves. I tried to learn and managed some kind of breaststroke (which I learned yesterday was 100% retarded and Ed, who is teaching me to swim, had never ever seen anything like it) and could keep afloat but I never put my face in the water and never really got very far.
Then I got a call from Chobani about the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon and I knew I’d be an idiot to turn it down. It was just the excuse I’d been looking for to learn how to swim. My sister’s fiance, Ed, happens to be a qualified swim coach and so I quickly enlisted him (asked nicely, obvs) to teach me so that I could live out my triathlon/surf babe dreams. My first lesson wasn’t great. I hated putting my face in the water and got totally freaked out by blowing bubbles as I breathed out so Ed decided I should learn head up front crawl (which is what he does when he plays water polo) because face down just wasn’t going to happen.
I found this ANNOYING and knew that I was making it harder for myself by not putting my face under the water. I wanted to swim so much but it was so flipping scary! I knew I had the triathlon in just six weeks (now just five!) and that if I was going to have to do it I would need to shed that part of me that was still six years old, pussying about with the float and wishing everyone else would stop being so…splashy.
So I went to the pool and decided to man the hell up. I donned Dayve’s goggles (all the lolz – WHY do they make you look boss eyed?!) and went down to the pool determined to get my god damn face in the god damn water. Now then. Nothing makes you feel sillier than standing in a metre deep pool, psyching yourself up to put your face in the water when there are kids just metres away doing somersaults and fetching bricks from the bottom. I started pretty slowly, holding my nose and dunking my face under, then going under and breathing out making bubbles and then seeing if I could sit on the bottom. Turns out I could do all these things and live to see another day. Who knew?! Next stop was lying on my front and putting my face in the water and I spent hours in the pool over the past few weeks just practising not being so god damn scared.
Yesterday I had my second lesson and it was 20 million times better than my first. I couldn’t wait to show Ed how I could put my head under the water (and happily stood at the bottom of the deep end blowing bubbles like a moron) and how I was no longer afraid to let my hips rise up and my head go down, kicking my legs on the surface and staring at the bottom of the pool. He said that I’d done really well and that 300m open water swim in five weeks would be no problem. I felt like this…
I obviously still have absolute miles and miles to go in terms of actually being a good swimmer but I can’t express how amazing it feels to be so much more at ease in the water. Here are my top tips for adults who are learning to swim…
1. It’s all about confidence. The water will not kill you and you can most definitely hold your breath. Chill out and learn to trust yourself in the water.
2. Technique is everything. When you run the general rule is that the more you run the better you get. You get faster, stronger and it’s such a natural movement that your body eventually adapts to find a more efficient stride. Swimming is not like this. You can swim and swim and swim but unless you nail your form you’re not going to get any better. Lessons are worth their weight in gold.
3. Practise practise practise! I am lucky enough to have a pool in my gym and so I can go a lot and it’s helped me a huge amount with getting comfortable in the water and practising my form. Go regularly and you’ll make huge progress.
4. Be brave. My main problem is being afraid of the water. Accept that it’s scary and that it’s uncomfortable and then do it anyway.
5. Progress is slow so celebrate each victory. You won’t swim 50 lengths overnight and nailing the technique takes time. Managing an extra few metres with good form or managing to take a breath without swallowing half the pool might sound small but consistently they add up to big progress so be proud of them.
Did you learn to swim as an adult? Do you wish you could swim but are too scared to get started? Anyone have any top tips for adult learners? I’d love to hear them!