Learning to sink or swim at 50

Spring Lakes 6
Learning to Sink or swim at 50, Part 1, my swimming history

It’s been approximately 42 years since I last had a swimming lesson.

I have a fear of being out of my depth and with deep water in general. Why on earth would I sign up for swimming lessons with my irrational fear of water?

Yesterday I had the first of a series of swimming lessons to help me overcome my water based fears and insecurities. I’d also like do more than a half arsed breast stroke. When asked about my swimming ability I replied that I float with intent.

Swimming all around me

My husband is an excellent swimmer. As a boy he went to a swimming club as well as sea scouts, so it’s no surprise to learn that he loves anything water related.

We made a decision early on that our children would be exposed to swimming from a young age. We enrolled them into a toddler class where we would all go swimming together, singing songs, blowing bubbles in the water, splashing around and generally getting them used to water. I didn’t want to pass on my water insecurities.

As they got older, it was nice to finally enrol them into swimming classes where they were with an instructor with me on the sidelines. At the moment they are progressing through the stages at our local leisure centre as well as going to swim club at the weekend as my husband did.

On holiday this year our swimming apparel was much used. While I enjoy watching the children play and watching my husband teach them basic techniques, it was nice to get in and muck around with them. During the summer there were opportunities to visit the local lido on hot days and I happily acted as an obstacle so that they could swim under me.

My husband is a regular swimmer and regularly visits the local leisure centre or at one of the local open water or wild swimming spots in our area. He likes to combine 2 of his sporting loves, running and swimming and enters aquathlons which essentially have you swimming and then running, and perhaps swimming and running again!

Swimming lessons in the late 1970’s

I did learn to swim as a child. At middle school (are they a thing in today’s world even?), once a week, a coach that was in less than good condition would arrive at the school and my classmates and I would board the coach for the short journey to the local leisure centre.

On arrival, anyone already able to swim would take the stairs to the main pool, but those of us who were still learning turned right at reception and headed down to the learning pool which to my mind was in the basement.

I decided to use Google to search for library images of the pool which has long since been demolished, but thanks to the power of the internet, such images still survive and these are merely ‘borrowed’!

I’d almost forgotten how bleak the building was with the pebble dash panelling. The main pool with its diving boards at the far end that even I once dared to climb (and swiftly climb down). I should be grateful that no pictures of the teaching pool are online as I’m sure it would set off some deep-set trauma.

The teaching style of the day is nothing like that I’ve witnessed with my children’s swimming lessons. No learning through play, blowing bubbles in the water, walking up and down pouring little buckets of water over our heads. Instead I remember being yelled for various reasons including not opening my eyes in the heavily chlorinated pool and for not kicking hard enough.

When I had reached a level when it was decided I could ‘swim’, I was lead up the stairs to the main pool where I was told to enter the water at the deep end, using the steps to the right of the diving boards in the image above.

I wasn’t told that there was a ledge to stand on if I was indeed tall enough. A after shimmying across the pool holding on to the side it wasn’t long until I got into a panic and was extracted from the pool in an undignified manor. This incident has stayed with me.

After this ‘incident’ I was resigned to the teaching pool until the end of our stint of swimming lessons, and suffice it to say I never took my swimming endeavours further.

My fears cemented

I remember going on a family holiday. We were staying with family and nearby was a beach. I was happy splashing around with my brother and cousins of a similar age in water waist deep and well within my comfort zone. An older cousin tried to get me to go into deeper water, but I was having none of it so I made a hasty retreat back to the beach.

Suddenly I’m being dragged off the beach and into the water. Water so deep that I’m clinging on to him for dear life as I was terrified. He got his way and instilled a fear of deep water.

Getting outdoors

I’m fortunate to live in an area where I can be among nature quite soon after leaving the house, but we’re as far from the coast as can be living in the East Midlands. As a family we like to make use of National Trust properties in the area and with the recent arrival of our latest family member Nora, a working Golden Retriever, we are exploring our local country parks too as we’re in the National Forest.

As well as countryside, there’s quite a bit of water around to explore. Canals, rivers and lakes with cold water swimming are within a few miles, and during one of the COVID lockdowns I encouraged my hubby to take up stand-up paddle-boarding as he always looks back with fondness at his time in the Sea Scouts. We now added an inflatable kayak to our collection of stuff and one weekend this summer we visited *Spring Lakes Watersports and Leisure in Long Eaton, Nottingham with a view to taking the children out on the kayak.

Spring Lakes 1
There’s one proud daddy!

Seeing the children enjoying time out on the water made me a little green with envy. You didn’t think I took part in the kayaking did you? Nooo, I stood on the sidelines with towels and a table to look after the child who wasn’t in the kayak. When all around you are having fun in the water, swimming, on their SUP (stand-up paddle-board) or on the inflatable obstacle course, it’s only natural to feel like the odd one out.

I’m one of those people that gets and idea and lets it build before I let those around me know my feelings or intentions, but only a week or so later I admitted to my husband that I wanted to make a return trip to Spring Lakes but this time I wanted to hire a wetsuit and for us to have fun on the beach. He was surprised to say the least and made the return booking before I changed my mind.

Baby steps

Nervous and a bit excited is how I would describe my feelings about our return trip. My husband and children already had wetsuits, so on arrival I pole up like the middle-aged woman out of her depth ready to be allocated a wetsuit.

I must admit I was dreading the possibility of being given something that wouldn’t fit, but the suit fitted where it needed to, even if it was a little long in the legs and arms. The only negative to this experience of hiring a wetsuit is that it was already wet, so it felt very pre-loved which made me shudder with the thought of the previous occupants and what they might have gotten up to.

Cause and effect

This second visit to Spring Lakes Watersports and Leisure set about the start of a sequence of events that lead to me writing this blog post.

It is fair to say that in this situation I felt like a fish out of water – excuse the pun! Did I do much other than get into the water and bob around? No, I stayed in my depth and took it all in.

I discovered that there’s something very calming about being in that water and looking out towards more water and trees. With my menopause induced anxiety at an all time high, this was a very welcome break from it all and I really hadn’t expected to feel this way!

Spring Lakes 6
Doing something for me

With anxiety at an all time high, I decided that I wanted to experience more of those feelings that weren’t choked in anxiety. I bought a wetsuit but that was a job in itself with my 42 inch chest! Wetsuits aren’t designed for ladies with ample bosoms so it took ages to find something to accommodate ‘the girls’ without being big all over, but I got there in the end.

Once I had the wetsuit I had to overcome my fear of being out of my depth and booking an open water swim slot at Spring Lakes.

My solo open water dip

With the day of my first solo open water dip looming, I’m trying to keep a level head so that I don’t talk myself out of going. Much to my surprise I pack the car, set off, arrive and get into my wetsuit!

I’ve got all the gear including a brightly coloured swim hat so that you can be easily spotted by lifeguards, a tow float in case you get into difficulty and of course my Lomo wetsuit. The water isn’t freezing as its June but it’s a nice and comfortable barrier.

I head to the beach area where the family and I were recently, walk into the water and just bob around taking in my beautiful surroundings.

Feeling comfortable I have a go at swimming. My ‘go to’ is my version of breast stroke. My wetsuit is made from neoprene so it has very buoyant properties, and before I know it I feel like I’m tipping forward and out of control. Swimming comes to an abrupt stop.

I’m massively proud that I went through with my visit, but I’m disappointed that my lack of confidence and limited swimming ability have marred my experience.

Not completely deterred, it is at this point that I consider that I should look at booking swimming lessons, even at my age.

To be continued………

CLICK HERE to read Part 2 of this Blog series

CLICK HERE to read Part 3 of this Blog series

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Nella Foulds
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