Originally created 07/06/99

Never too late to swim



As a child, Darrell Turner never had a reason to learn to swim. Now, at age 18, he has found his motivation.

"I'm going into the Navy," said Mr. Turner, one of about 10 students in a beginners' swimming class for adults offered in June at the Family Y. "It's mandatory that you know how to swim when you're in boot camp. If I learn how to swim now, it will relieve some stress in basic training."

Mr. Turner, like many other adults, is learning a skill many others have taken for granted since childhood.

Many people do not learn to swim until later in life, said Avery Villines, aquatics director for the Family Y.

Adults often are motivated to learn by outside factors, Ms. Villines said. Often, parents decide to learn soon after their children do, she said.

"A big reason to learn for parents is not being able to help their child if their child is in trouble," she said.

Adults have a variety of reasons for not learning to swim earlier in life, Ms. Villines said. Many had scary, near-drowning experiences as children; others never had an opportunity to learn, she said.

Marie Serand, who recently graduated from an adult swimming class, was one of the latter.

"I figured out that I was going to get older, and I decided I wanted to learn to swim before then," said the youthful woman, laughing as she tread water with apparent ease. "When I go to the senior citizens' club, I can enjoy it more."

Teaching adults poses new challenges for swim instructors, some teachers said. Unlike children, adults require little cajoling to participate in lessons, but they sometimes find it difficult to ditch routines, she said.

"As with children, everybody learns differently," Ms. Villines said. "Sometimes it's easier with adults because you can tell them exactly what you want them to do. But sometimes adults have old habits that are hard for us to break.

"The thing about the adults is there is such a will to succeed. They're willing to try things and to practice, because they want to see themselves succeed."

Elizabeth Huckabee, a teen-ager leading one of Ms. Villines' adult classes, finds it easier to teach adults than children.

"They understand the principles a lot easier than the kids do," she said as she watched her students finish their final lesson on June 24. "It makes sense to them."

But an obstacle for many adults is hydrophobia, or fear of water. Even after a few lessons, many adults never quite overcome the fear, Ms. Villines said, as a woman in the class desperately clutched the pool's edge.

The student demonstrated several times that she could float easily, but her fear kept her from straying from the pool's wall, Ms. Villines said.

"A lot of discussion goes on before they even get into the pool," Ms. Villines said. "There's a big trust factor there. We tell them how deep the water is, and we tell them exactly what is going to happen."

Because of adults' varied backgrounds and comfort levels, instructors often must tailor lessons to each student, Ms. Villines said.

"To be honest, we teach them what they can learn," she said. "A lot of times, all we want to do with adults is teach them to float on their backs."

Helping adults overcome such fears makes being an instructor worthwhile, Miss Huckabee said.

"I had one lady who was literally terrified of the water, and said she wasn't going to do it," Miss Huckabee said. "She swam all the way across the pool the other day.

"To make them realize that they can do it makes my effort worth it."

The Family Y will begin another session of swim classes for adults on Monday, Ms. Villines said. Adults attend nine 45-minute sessions over a two-week span. Students must be Y members, she said. The cost for classes is $47.

Brandon Haddock can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.