More adults are learning buoyant joy of this water sport


July 02, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

The Baltimore County Health Department will not direct callers to pools offering swimming lessons for adults, as was reported in yesterday's Health section, based on incorrect information provided to The Sun. For information about lessons, call your local YMCA, community colleges, community pools or private swim clubs.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Swimming is one of those skills generally learned in childhood, something kids are supposed to pick up at summer camp or community pools.

CBut for 39-year-old Kevin Moran, it didn't work out that way. After four or five series of lessons in his early years and another stab at it with his wife as teacher, his ability was nil. "I couldn't even float," he says.


So Mr. Moran, like a growing number of adult Americans, signed up for lessons. When Towson YMCA aquatics director John Douglass faced the students and asked what each could do, Mr. Moran had his answer all ready.

"I said, 'All I can do is sink.' " he recalls.

But that was then and this is now. After 16 lessons, Mr. Moran, a sheet metal mechanic from Gardenville, had learned the crawl and backstroke and was able to swim the length of the pool -- twice. Now he does laps as an alternative to jogging.

"Probably the reason I couldn't learn as a kid was that I wasn't relaxed," he speculates. "I never felt safe. As stiff as I was, it's no wonder I couldn't float. But after John [Douglass] got me relaxed enough, I learned real fast."

This time, too, he had a strong motive: "My wife and I go to Assateague quite a bit, and I wanted to learn how to surf. But my wife said, 'If you want to surf, you'll have to learn to swim first.' "

Pat Shimek, a 37-year-old foreign language teacher from Cockeysville who also learned to swim at the Towson Y last winter, had a more exotic reason: She'll be going to Summer Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., next month, for a program that offers astronaut-type science training to teachers.

"The training will include water survival," reports Ms. Shimek. "So I thought I should get some training in swimming first."

More and more people like Ms. Shimek and Mr. Moran are deciding as adults to learn to swim, according to some swimming teachers. "I'd say our adult enrollment has increased by 50 or 60 percent over the past year," says Jim Hutcheson, aquatics director at the Catonsville Y.

"I think that being in a marine environment, with the bay and the ocean, has something to do with it. I keep hearing, 'We just got a boat,' or 'We have a house on the water,' and as people realize they are going to be around aquatic environments more, they also realize they're going to have to learn to swim."

Mr. Douglass, who's seen a near-doubling of the number of adult beginners in Towson Y classes in the past year, also credits the general enthusiasm for self-improvement: "You see the same kind of increase in the number of adults going back to school," he notes.

The current emphasis on exercise has had an influence, too: Swimming is at the top of most lists of America's favorite sports, and exercise experts sing its praises.

"Swimming exercises the entire body. It increases cardiovascular conditioning. It is not weight-bearing, so it increases joint mobility without causing a lot of stress from pounding against the ground," says John Lopez, certified athletic trainer and director of Towson Sports Medicine.

For land-bound athletes, it's also a cross-training activity that keeps them in condition while working different muscles, Mr. Lopez says. And, he adds, "It's a great carry-over sport, the type you can do when you can no longer go out and play competitive soccer or football.

"When you can't run several miles a day, you can still get into a pool and maintain good cardiovascular capacity, in a very safe environment -- providing you know how to swim."

Unless you're really phobic about the water, you can learn how at any age, according to Scott Knox, director of the Howard and Carroll counties district offices of the Red Cross of Central Maryland. "Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have learned in adulthood; you can do it at 50 or 60 or 70."

Whatever your age, the progression of skills is the same. As taught by instructors certified by the Red Cross or the YMCA, you begin by getting into the pool and getting used to the water.

For young children, the earliest lessons are masked as splash and play. "We tell them to wash themselves with the water. To get their shoulders wet, their ears wet, to put their face in the water and get their hair wet," Mr. Hutcheson says. With faces below the surface, they open their eyes to blow bubbles. Then they're ready to lift their legs and float, kick; then add arm strokes.

Depending on the instructor and the age of the student, the first skills may be practiced with such aids as flotation belts and kick-boards. "But if a flotation device is used, you have to be careful that the child does not develop dependency on it or become over-confident in the water," says Mr. Knox.

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