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Third lesson: Swimming second, safety first
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Jumping right in

Times summer intern Audrey Williams never learned how to swim. She’s one of many adults who lack that skill, but thanks to some classes with the Red Cross this week and next, she’s learning how and sharing that experience in daily columns on and occasional columns in The Times.

Day 1
Day 2 

The strong smell of chlorine in the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center is a welcoming one by my third lesson.

Today, I’m more than ready to jump into the pool and breaststroke like there’s no tomorrow. When I enter the water, I realize my instructor has other plans for me.

“Today we’re going to try something new,” Max Sumner said.

He wants me to finally dunk myself under water. I’ve avoided it for long enough. There are colorful rings he holds at the bottom of the pool that I am supposed to dive down and grab.

“People find it hard to overcome getting their head in the water because it seems so against what you think to do,” he said. “People think, ‘I need to breathe. Why would I do this if I can’t breathe?’ It’s one of the hardest things to overcome because it feels so different from normal.”

Sumner doesn’t have to tell me it doesn’t feel normal. I already know it doesn’t feel normal, but I pinch my nose and dive to the bottom to retrieve an orange ring.

I grab it and notice that it’s not bad at all. It’s similar to bobbing for apples, except for Sumner has his hand on my shoulder and is keeping me under. When I pop back up, wide-eyed and gasping for air, he apologizes for having to be so direct.

“With kids, we dunk them in the water and they realize that they shouldn’t be afraid of going under water,” he said. "We led you up to it. What I ended up doing with you is pushing you further than you necessarily wanted to go and you figured out that it’s not as bad as you thought it was.”

It seems like the only methods that work for me are the ones that work for 8-year-olds, and I’m not sure how great I feel about that. But at least my head was submerged under water. This is a necessary step to being able to swim.

Next, I get to “point my toes like a ballerina and kick.” This is the flutter kick and it’s good for staying afloat, he said.
After semi-successfully practicing it, class is over. I’ve worked up enough confidence from today’s accomplishments to ask Sumner if he thinks I’ll be a pro-swimmer at the end of the session.

“I think you’ll be able to float. We’re going to try to get you to kick on a kickboard and we’re going to get your more used to putting your head in the water,” he said.

So, it’s a no.

“The Red Cross gives us lesson plans with different levels and there are things you have to do before you go to the next level.” He reminds me that Miss Cornelia, my classmate, had to take two sessions before she was able to breaststroke.

“There are so many adults that don’t know how to swim, and it’s a safety thing,” he said. “This is about you swimming, but it’s more about you being safe in the water.”