In July 2018 Steve Quinlan was booked to go on a 2-week family holiday, to a camping resort with multiple swimming pools in Italy. Steve was almost 42 and having avoided swimming pools for most of his life, had never learned how to swim.
Neither had his wife, nor his 14-year-old daughter. His 11-year-old son had a handful of lessons to his name having attended a week-long swimming course in our Aura de Paul swimming pool.
Just before he left for his holidays Steve booked himself in for our Adult Swimming Lessons at Aura de Paul in Dublin.
The following is his own personal account of his experience:
“We were to share the holiday experience in Italy with two other families, all relations. In total, four of the adults had limited or no swimming experience, and there were five kids to mind in the pool.
In June 2018, 4 of the adults (me included) booked in for lessons in Aura de Paul. Two of the adults had some swimming experience and could perform half of a front crawl. However, I couldn’t do anything in the water as I had dodged pools my whole life. I had three lessons to go before going on holidays where I would have to face two weeks of swimming pools. It was time to absorb whatever I could.
Andy was our swimming coach and he started from ground zero. The beginner students got into the baby pool and sat down in the water to get comfortable. Then he got us to walk up and down in the shallow end. When we were ready, we would stop walking, put our face in the water for a second, and go back to walking. Then we had to increase this time to 2 seconds, and so on.
Next, we were given foam noodles and told to face the edge of the pool. The idea was to reach for the edge of the pool and bring your feet up. This was probably the hardest step for me and probably remains so in all the time I’ve spent in pools since. My brain did not want my body to go horizontal and fought it hard. I had to convince myself to take “a leap of faith” – not easy for a non-believer. I managed to get my feet off the ground and reach the edge. Then I made the distance to the edge longer and longer.
Andy’s teaching style suited me perfectly. Set a small goal, achieve it, and then set another small goal. The first lesson was over.
Andy was away this week and we had a different swimming coach. I had 2 trusty foam noodles and he walked me up and down the pool until I got my legs off the ground and kicked. He then left me to practice doing this towards the edge of the pool. I repeated the same process from the previous week. Increasing my distance by a few steps, until I could do a few meters. It was steady progress.
Andy saw my progress and said by the end of the lesson we would ditch the floats. I was a bit incredulous. He got me to swim with my hands out straight, kicking strong, still using 2 foam noodles for support. As soon as I was competent traversing the shallow end, Andy took one of the noodle floats from me. Soon after, both noodle floats were gone, and I had graduated to a kickboard float.
By the end of the lesson, I had ditched all the floats and was swimming half the width of the pool, with my hands out straight, lifting my head to breathe. This was enough for Italy which was in a few days’ time.
Unfortunately, I would miss the next 2 lessons, but before I left Andy showed me a couple of extra stepping stones towards doing a front crawl.
We arrived on a Sunday night and my son was first in line at the camp swimming pool. There was a giant Olympic pool, diving pools, river pools, water slides – the works. We spent hours in that pool every day, where I spent time practicing what I had learned from Andy. My son who was fresh from his week-long course in Aura taught me how to float on my front, mushroom float, and even float on my back for a bit. He even convinced me to go down the water slide which was both terrifying and fun.
My 14-year-old daughter however couldn’t swim and spent most of the first week looking longingly at those waiter slides. She was terrified of putting her face in the water, having had some dreadful swimming lessons as a child.
On day 5, through bribery, we set the goal of her going down the slide with me. I repeated the learning process, imitating what Andy had taught me in week 1. We walked up and down the pool, graduating to pressing our mouths in the water for a second. I made chicken sounds as we did this to keep her laughing. Then I started her at the edge of the pool, reaching for it. She had no float to work with, but I stood beside her for support. Soon she was able to stand in the middle of the pool and reach forward for the edge.
Next, we had to conquer getting her head into the water – something that would happen at the end of the water slide. My son, daughter and I all held hands, sang ring-a-ring-rosy in the middle of the pool, and practiced plunging our heads into the water, at the end of the verse. After a few hours, she was ready to try the slide.
We went down together, and she was ecstatic with her achievement. I lost count of how many more times she went on the slide, making sure she made up for lost time!
I returned to Aura having missed 2 lessons, but I had a couple of weeks of daily pool time under my belt, and some new goals.
Short term: Learn to front crawl
Medium term: Swim a length of the pool
Long term: Be comfortable in deeper water.
Andy started to progress me on the front crawl, which I was eager to learn – too eager in fact. Like most beginners, I was asking how to breathe before I was ready to do so. He saw this and progressed me at the rate I was able for. He broke the front crawl technique down into small parts and I started to look like I could almost swim.
In the few remaining weeks of the 8-week term, I learned to front crawl for half a width of the pool. I also learned to float on my back.
My Daughter Joins:
My wife had quit the lessons early on as she was unable to get past a childhood traumatic swimming pool incident. Andy advised not to press her on it and that she might come back to the water when she was ready. He even offered to coach her for free which was beyond generous.
He also generously said my daughter could take her place in the few remaining lessons on the 8-week course for free.
He managed to tap into her competitive side and “gamed” the process of swimming while putting her face in the water. First achieve 1 second, then go for 2 seconds, repeat etc. This appealed to her. Now having a good experience with swimming lessons and her new coach, she was happy to sign up with me for the next course. In the meantime, my son signed up for the Swim Academy.
On week 1 of the 2nd course, I went to my usual spot in the beginner’s pool and a different coach evaluated all the students. He told me to front crawl back and forth. I did so, and he sent me to a more advanced section of the pool. This was real progress and the lessons got more serious.
Andy was teaching this section and over the next 8 weeks, the focus would be on the front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, and occasionally butterfly.
Here, Andy showed another skill set – an expertise in breaking down each move into individual building blocks. Always encouraging, he would achieve a lot in a 45-minute lesson through this building block process. He would also throw in some unorthodox techniques – making us sing Jingle Bells aloud in order to achieve a cadence on the backstroke. Another time we had to switch from floating on our fronts to floating on our backs repeatedly, in order to teach us the motion required to get our heads out of the water on the front crawl. It was disorienting, but it worked!
By this time, I realized, if I was to keep up in the class, I would need more practice. Each week, my kids and I would spend a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. They played, and I practiced what I learned the week before.
By the end of the 2nd 8-week course, I could front crawl and backstroke at a novice level.
Half a year later, I’ve stayed at level 2 under Andy’s supervision, and haven’t missed a class. I’ve managed to inch out progress as I leave the beginner phase and enter the intermediate phase. Each week is a real challenge for me as I try not to gulp too much water nor bump into the person beside me, but I can swim 20 meters of the pool relatively comfortably now, which means I achieved my medium-term goal.
My next goal is to build on this progress until I can go to a pool and do 10-20 lengths. I know if I can relax more, and improve technique, I’ll achieve it. I am also looking longingly at Olympic pools, working towards swimming 50 meters in a depth of 2.4 meters. All in good time, I hope!
My wife re-enters the water:
As Andy predicted, 6 months after her first attempt at swimming, my wife re-entered the pool. I repeated the steps I’d learned in the early weeks with her, on a quiet Sunday morning. We walked up and down the pool. She put a noodle float on, and I held her hands. I told her to lift one leg off the floor. After a few minutes of this, she had both legs off the floor, was kicking and was putting her face in the water – tremendous progress in a couple of hours for someone who had a terror of water. I told Andy about my progress and he guided me on how to progress her further.
6 months later, 3 of us can swim, and one of us is on the way.
My daughter pretends to be mermaid in the water. One day she wants to swim in the clear waters of the ocean. My son can hold his own in the pool with his more experienced cousins – backflipping, diving and racing them in the water.
While I can swim a length or 2, I know I’m only working at a fraction of my potential – if I put in the hours, I’ll hone the technique and comfort in the water will come.
Finally, my wife is overcoming a childhood fear. An unexpected result to say the least.
I don’t think things would have played out like this under a different coach.”