Michigan is not only surrounded by water, but also dotted with lakes and rivers. That's why swimming is such a big part of being a Michigander. Many people are shocked when someone admits they don't know how to swim.
The numbers, though, side with the land lubbers. According to the web site swimmunity.com, 50 to 60 percent of American adults do not know how to swim.
That no doubt leads to another disturbing figure. Ten people die by drowning in America every day. (CDC)
If you were to ask a non-swimming adult why they don't swim, most would tell you it's a fear of the water that keeps them high and dry.
Erin Jewett, Aquatics Coordinator at the Marquette County YMCA, knows that the fear is not easy to overcome. "The fear factor. Kids - a lot of them are scared to begin with. But once you show them you don't have to be scared, splash around, blow bubbles it's OK. Adults have had all this time to *be* scared, so it takes a lot longer to chisel away that fear."
Having someone with that understanding made it a lot easier for me to face my fear of swimming. According to Erin, "The first step is getting comfortable in the pool. Getting relaxed and comfortable."
Erin started my lessons off by assessing what I could, and could not do, in the water. This first step is major, and does not have a set time limit. For some people, it may take a whole lesson just to get near the water. As for me, I was a little ahead of the game.
The one thing that I had learned through the years was how to float on my back. And Erin told me that the back float is the one essential water skill that everyone should know.
"In cases of emergency - if you fall off a boat, or are in open water over your head - you start to panic. That emergency float, or floating on your back and relaxing, that's going to help you. Your face is out of the water, and you can breathe easier," Erin noted.
Moving from the back float, Erin had me get a little floatation help - using a foam barbell device. This gave me stability as I moved to the next step: paddling with my legs.
It sounds so easy - point your toes, whipping your legs back and forth. But my legs were definitely not used to the different work out, and one foot kept cramping up. Erin told me some easy stretches to help out, as well as some things to start working on to strengthen the arms.
"It's important to build up your arm strength, because you're using muscles you don't usually use. Running, you walk every day, so it's similar. Swimming, you use your arms a lot differently. So, shoulder rolls, build up those muscles. Stretch your arms across your body. Even get one or two pound weights for curls. And the butterfly movements -- these really help."
Good things to work on, but I was not ready to start using my arms just yet. I first had to get onto my stomach to swim. And I was not very happy about it. Still, not wanting to let my coach down, I grabbed on to that floaty for all I was worth, and gave it a try. It took a few false starts, but I did eventually make it from one end of the pool to the other.
Needless to say, my face was not even close to getting into the water. It was something that I needed to get over. The more of your face and head in the water, your body naturally stays afloat better - and makes swimming easier.
Erin started me with a simple task - blow bubbles in the water. First, with my mouth, working my way up to blowing bubbles through my nose. *That* I did not like. I realized that every time my nose filled with water, it freaked me out. This step was not as easy as I was expecting.
While not perfect at blowing bubbles, Erin continued to work on other skills as well. Time for the arms, and the basic doggy paddle. I was pretty pumped up when I finally made it from one end of the pool to the other without stopping. I was finally to the point where if I fell in the water, I felt confident enough that I could at least make a solid attempt at making it to shore.
I found that as Erin layered each swim step, I just kept a running tally in my mind. By the time I finally stopped using the swim noodle and headed down the lane on my own, the list went something like this:
Relax - float - paddle with the legs - relax again - work the arms - stay relaxed! - be sure to breathe.
Someday, this will be easier for me. I fully intend to continue taking swim lessons. The more confidence that I have in the water, the more fun I will have. And if you are an adult that does not swim please consider contacting a local swim instructor and at least giving it a try.
I can assure you, the feeling you get when you swim on your own - is beyond description.??