Learning How to Swim as an Adult

Growing up in the Bronx, New York to Dominican-born-and-raised parents can make for an excellent recipe of stereotypes and cliches. One of which is that, unless you had easy accessibility to a pool or some other body of water, you probably never learned how to swim as a kid. So I found myself at 25… learning how to swim as an adult.

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If you’re wondering about public city pools in New York City, they are not truly viable options. Not only are they scarcely available throughout the boroughs but they are three feet tall, crowded, and with prepubescent kids doing physical things I didn’t even understand at their age.

When I finally moved out of the Bronx at age 18…. In rivers, I was noticeably the doggy paddler holding onto some neon colored flotation device; in my college pool I was the one gripping tightly to the edge of a ladder; and on Lake Ontario, I was the curly haired Dominican gripping tightly to my college roommate’s boat ladder. So finally, after years of traveling to islands, lakes, water caves, surfing destinations, and waterfalls — but not being able to swim with everyone else — in my mid-20’s, I finally decided to pay the piper and set aside the time to take swimming lessons.

Adult Swimming Classes in New York City

Finding swimming lessons in New York City was a challenge within itself. The opportunities are scarce, especially for adults. Second, the prices are not cheap.  I chose the YMCA on East 14th Street. The total cost was $400 for three months. This included lessons, a proper swimsuit, goggles, nose piece and ear plugs. It’s a lot, but think of it as a life time investment.

Learning How to Swim Is Like Learning to Ride a Bike

As autumn shifted into winter, trekking in the cold dark nights, reeking of chlorine was not ideal. Yet, each time I finished a class I felt stronger and happier about my swimming abilities. I felt several “clicks” throughout my lessons. And I realized a lot of swimming is mental. If you panic you sink, but if you relax your mind and let your body do the work you will be surprised how natural a body of water can feel to the human body.

Halfway during the course, for the first time in my life, I was finally able to tread water in the deep end. This was a huge feat, as I was deathly afraid of ever going near the deep end. Everytime I swam in the water and couldn’t feel the floor my heart wanted to jump out of my body. But my instructor was so encouraging, that it made me believe I could do it if I just tried to break away from the pool’s edge.

By the end of the course, I was doing underwater flips and racing my classmates to the pool’s floor. I was finally swimming without touching the floor with my toes and without the help of a flotation device! It was thrilling. I was so happy. There is something really special about being under water that feels like you’re in another universe. And for me, it was particularly special because it was a fear that I had conquered. It felt like I’d gained a magical power. The ability to swim.

Learning How to Swim with Fear of Drowning

The very last class I finally embraced my separate fears of falling and drowning. I had a lot of anxiety, even as I was learning how to remain buoyant with my head above the water… Sometimes I’d wonder what if? And a sense of panic would rush over me. But with practice, this slowly dissipated. However, there are other levels of swimming that I was slowly learning. After learning to tread in the deep end, I had to learn how to do a pencil drop. This is when you jump into the deep end of the pool and learn to bounce back up. The thought of just jumping off anything and falling would paralyze my body from moving. It took about 50 tries for a few weeks and a lot of encouragement and cheer from my classmates until I finally jumped into the deep end in a pencil drop. It was exhilarating.

It’s Never Too Late to Learn How to Swim

It was an amazing experience to learn how to swim as an adult. I think I appreciated learning now, more than I would have as a child. It was well worth the $400 price tag.

Now, the next time I’m in a boat on a beautiful lake, I’ll be able to enjoy swimming in its waters. The next time I’m in Costa Rica, I might be able to take a surfing lesson instead of running away from the instructor at the sight of a wave. In the Dominican Republic, the next time the sea floor escapes me while snorkeling, I won’t panic and scream but instead will calmly tread.

This was one of best things I’ve done not just for my health and as an essential survival skill, but for my future travel adventures. I highly recommend investing in this life skill, especially if you love to travel.

And if you’re terrified of the water? Don’t worry, there was an 82-year-old woman in our class who nervously joined despite her phobia of drowning. By the end of the class, I saw her calmly swimming a lap in the deep end with a noodle. It was such a major and drastic progression from her first day (when she was afraid to leave the ledge of the pool), that everyone stopped to clap!

Today, I look back baffled and wonder, what on earth took me so long?

If this applies to you… ask yourself, what are you waiting for?

2 thoughts on “Learning How to Swim as an Adult

  1. Somto Ugwueze says:

    I’m in the same boat! I’m 25 and have been talking swimming lessons on and off since I was 12. But I still haven’t gotten the hang of it. I can only do a backstroke, since I don’t have to worry about breathing. Ironically, I’m always traveling to islands and hanging out at the beach.

    I think the main thing for me is that I’m scared of deep water and I don’t know how to float well. I’m considering hiring a private swimming instructor in the future. I’ve promised myself that I will learn how to swim someday!

    • Isabelle says:

      You should go scuba diving in Bay of Pigs! The waters are crystal clear and the dive is only $25 with an instructor that holds your hand (literally in my case at first lol) and you’ll be in the real deeeeeep end. That kind of helped assuage my fears. But I’d be lying if I said I was totally unafraid of dark blue oceans water. It’s scary, and we don’t know what’s down there!

      I hope you get better at it! Swimming is so fun, once you work through the fear. I think consistency in the water is key… which if you’re in a city is a luxury…

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