Take one Asperger’s boy who, after a decade of weekly lessons, cannot swim a stroke, add a fragile, dyslexic girl rejected as water phobic and unteachable, plus one uncoordinated, accident-prone, almost-drowned-as-a-toddler, terror-filled mother – and teach them how to swim. Yep, we’re a rather odd family, and when we arrived to the intense heat of Dubai in July, fresh off the plane from England, our inability to swim suddenly hit us like a rather large wave (only not so refreshing). So we sat, guests of the Lakes Club, sweating by the pool and enviously watching the coach with her pupils in the water, wondering (not for the first time) what it would be like to be ‘normal’.
Perhaps I sighed out loud: ‘How I wish my kids could learn to swim!’ because a kind djinn was certainly released from my water bottle that day as Gerrie, the Active Sports coach, turned her head in calm reply to speak of Summer Swim Camp. On day one, I nervously enrolled the kids. Okay, I was actually gripped with fear. Fear they might drown, naturally, but also an even greater fear of their rejection as I slowly tried to explain to the coaches the sequencing problems, instruction-processing difficulties and finally the array of allergies that have left my poor kids puny and stamina-less. I was startled by their concerned concentration. This is where most teachers and instructors zone out because it’s all so difficult. (‘Yes,’ I want to scream sometimes, ‘it is indeed all so difficult!’)
Over the next days and weeks, I was astounded by the gentle patience of the coaches, Peter and George, and amazed at their firm belief that my kids could and would swim (when even I winced inside at their attempts). The Active Sports coaches certainly had expert knowledge, and they seemed to know innately just how hard to push and not to push. Progress was by no means sudden, but neither was it fleeting. It was steady and stronger by the day. Contorted limbs straightened, jagged strokes smoothed, fear dismantled little by little to be filtered away.
The dedicated commitment of the coaches planted a dedicated commitment in my kids, who now know that commitment in itself is a rare and special gift that they do possess. Yes, their voyage may be slower, but they can certainly join the expedition, and, after all, life is all about the journey, not the destination.
And what of me? I was invited time and again to ‘cool off’ in the water as the kids swam through the summer – invitations I deflected and declined to hide my shameful secret. I could not swim. I could not bear water near my face and I felt dizzy at the mere thought of being in deeper than my knees. In the final week I let the secret slip. Gently Gerrie said, ‘Come on, I’ll teach you,’ and somehow I followed, naively thinking that there might be a way to learn with my head in the air. There wasn’t, of course. But the happy, smiling faces of Gerrie, then George, the trust they had instilled in me as I watched them with my children, the smiles as they blew bubbles in the water with me, the humour and their perseverance – and the immense pride I had in my own kids – made me determined not to give up. Not even when paralysed by panic attacks and fear – of suffocation; of the deep end; of swimming in the dark; of swimming in different pools. Not even when lack of coordination meant I had the breathing exactly wrong (yes, I was breathing ‘in’ under water and ‘out’ in the air, effectively lowering the level of the pool with the litres of water swallowed). Not even when I felt I was going backwards and would never progress.
Now I understand how the kids made it. To have someone truly believe in you keeps you pulling, keeps you kicking and, of particular importance when it comes to swimming, keeps you breathing.
Then, on the last Friday in November, all three of us swam in the Open Water Swimming Series’ sea races. Yes, you read right. We. All. Swam. In. The. Sea. Sure, we collected a hat-trick of last places, but not one of us is afraid anymore. Not of the water, not of the deep, and certainly not of failure.
Interested in swimming lessons? Check out Active Sports’ classes at www.activeuae.com; 050 559 7055.