There are a lot of adults that don’t know how to swim and until recently I was one of them. I’m not a complete swimmer yet, but this is how my journey started.
I was born in a city that did not have a strong water culture, so I did not learn swimming as a kid. And as I grew up, I somehow always thought of myself as a person that cannot swim as if I could not do anything about it.
Every time I went to the beach with friends, I felt a sense of jealousy as I was being confined to neck-deep water while they were waving from afar. Although I would do my best to imitate their gestures and even managed to actually move, I did not dear venture out in deep water.
I have a fear of deep water
At some point, I realized that fear of deep water got me real good. I was paralyzed by the thought of being in deep water…especially if I could not see the bottom. Somehow, seeing the bottom would calm me down, even though the water was still deep.
The first time I felt it viscerally was as I trying snorkeling for the first time on the island of Santorini, Greece. Having the breathing tube on meant that I could move about without much effort. I really liked it at first as I observed the marine life close to the shore.
But Santorini, being a volcanic island, is very steep, so the water gets deep quickly. As I was watching the fish, I did not notice that I got quite far from the shore. Then, I looked ahead as the water was getting increasingly deep and all I could see was the abyssal, dark depths of the sea.
This sight sent instant fear to the core of my being. I think this kind of images it’s linked to death by our subconscious minds or something similar. The fact is that I was scared out of my mind. And whatever plans I had to learn swimming, were indefinitely postponed.
Years later after that episode, I realized that my fear of deep water was exaggerated. I mean, compared to other fears we have, this one is related to a situation that can actually be life-threatening. But still, I felt that my fear was greatly enhanced by my mind, so I decided to consciously challenge it and actually learn to swim…for real!
So the first thing I did was get a subscription to a swimming pool near me and start practicing.
Learning the swimming basics at an indoor pool
The main reason I decided to start going to the swimming pool is that I considered it a controlled environment. It has all the benefits:
- the water is clear and you can see all the way to the bottom
- it’s not deep enough to actually drown (at least the one I attended wasn’t)
- if something does go wrong, there are lifeguards on the watch
Armed with this knowledge, I was able to put a collar on my fear. Now I just needed to walk it regularly in order for it to slowly get tamed down. And that’s why during the first 2 months, as I went to the pool for about 3 times/week.
I remember the first time going there without really knowing what to do. One day before, I watched a bunch of Youtube videos about the front crawl technique and I set a goal for my self to do one complete pool length. But during the first session, I just managed to do only 2-3 strokes after which I needed to stand up as I was completely out of breath.
As it turns out, a proper breathing technique is a key factor in learning how to swim. This took me quite some time to master, especially since I did not have an instructor. I felt too embarrassed to take swimming lessons as an adult 🙁
After the first few sessions, I did not see much progress, but I was determined not to quit. And I was right to do so since I was soon able to swim a full length without stopping, although I was gasping and my heart was pounding at the end of it…it was still progress!
With time, I managed to get ever more relaxed and I could swim for 30-40 minutes almost constantly. I was completing 15-20 laps then 30-40 laps, which was incredible for me.
Then I remember seeing this video where Tim Ferris explains how he learned to swim:
My outdoor swimming beginnings
Although my confidence and swimming abilities dramatically improved by practicing in the pool, swimming in a lake or sea is still a challenge for me.
As I’m writing this article, I’m based in Kalmar, Sweden for 3 months as I’m doing a house sitting assignment here. And as it happens, Kalmar is one of the best places in Sweden for swimming in the sea, having lots of beaches and swimming spots.
My current daily exercise is swimming to deeper water and practicing water threading until I get tired. I don’t venture out too far, just enough so that I can’t touch the bottom.
What I’m trying to do is getting comfortable in deep water without panicking. I must admit that I still get a sense of that visceral fear each time I’m venturing out, but I also feel that this fear is getting ever weaker. I doubt that it will go away for good, but it gives me an immense inner power to know that I can swim in spite of it.
My next goals in terms of outdoor, deep water swimming are:
- 100 m (easily done in the swimming pool)
- 500 m (also easily done in the swimming pool)
- 1000 m (my regular distance when doing an indoor session)
- 3900 m (the Ironman contest swimming distance)
My last goal seems so far away for me now, but I know for sure that it’s reachable. One of my bucket list goals is to be an Ironman finisher.
So, although I’m not a complete swimmer yet, I did manage to get a lot of progress done within a few months. This goes to prove that you can learn swimming even as an adult. Actually, I think adults get even more personal benefits out of this experience because they are more aware of each small increment in skill.
Did you also learn to swim as an adult?
Share your story in the comments…