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First lesson: Sink or swim

Novice learns to trust water during France Meadows Center session

POSTED: July 8, 2014 1:32 a.m.
SHANNON CASAS/The Times

Times intern Audrey Williams practices blowing bubbles while floating on a kickboard Monday as lifeguard Max Sumner gives her instructions at the pool at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville. Williams is taking swimming lessons for the first time.

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Gainesville’s Frances Meadows Aquatic Center is a happy place. The day I go, the sun is beaming, children are laughing, and water fountains are splashing.

Meanwhile, I am standing outside shaking because I’m here to take my first Adults Learning the Basics swim lesson.

Meghan Hill, aquatics coordinator who’s just been promoted to division manager, is kind enough to give me some beginner’s words of wisdom.

“You don’t need to be hard on yourself. Not the first day. You’ll progress pretty fast,” she said.

I walk into the pool room a ball of nerves wearing a swimsuit I had to dig out of the back of my closet and sending a small prayer up to heaven. The class I’m in is a smaller one, and today, I’m the only student.

My first lesson: blowing bubbles out of my mouth and nose. It’s the precursor to learning to breathe out under water. And though I’m sure my first attempts are miserable, my instructor, Max Sumner, is telling me I’m doing well.

Sumner is tall, has taught lessons before, and most notably, is a teenager. I’m eight years older than my swim teacher, and it’s not something I’m proud of. Nonetheless, I try to do as he said.

“Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. A little bit of water will get in your nose, but that’s normal,” he said.

I’ll tell you, it does not feel normal and I pop up out of the water before I can blow a steady stream of bubbles.

After a few moderately successful attempts, we move onto floating in the 3-foot-deep corner of the pool. I’m instructed to hold onto the edge of the pool for support.

“I want you to get used to having the back of your head in the water,” he said.

This is not my concern when it comes to floating. Floating is hard because it requires you to relax your entire body and trust that the water will support you.

I have to trust an inanimate body of water, and that is not something I can wrap my head around.

He gives me a swimming noodle to support myself and it helps. The next flotation device I practice with is a kickboard, which supports your upper body while you learn to kick, keeping your legs afloat. With both of these, I still need his support.

To end the lesson, he said I will have to float without him, only the noodle. I hold onto the thing for dear life.

“I’m going to let go of you now. See? You’re fine. OK, now I’m taking my hand off your shoulder.”

Sumner said looking up at the ceiling will help keep me relaxed, and as I do, I realize I’m floating on my own. I deem the first day a shaky success and get out of the water immediately.

After my lesson, I talk to Peggy Black. She’s in the same boat as I am and is considering the class.

“You think you’ve got trouble. I’ve got trouble! I’m 67,” she said.

“I grew up in a time when we didn’t do things like that. There were not the facilities around for swimming when we were kids.”

These days, Black has a lake house and wants to take swim lessons so she’ll be able to get off her boat and into the water.

I just want to be able to go to the lake with friends, or maybe even one day go to some tropical beach and actually swim in the water.

Talking with Black gives me some more resolve. Whatever the motive, it’s good to know I’m not the only fish out of water.



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