Learning to swim

Duncansville resident Martha Plummer, 74, grew up afraid of water.

“I loved water exercise because I knew of all the benefits. So I would do water exercise, but I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t float. I couldn’t do anything,” she said, and the thought of submerging her face terrified her.

Last year, Plummer decided to overcome her fear and take lessons with Jenelle Lockard, aquatic director at The Summit Tennis and Athletic Club.

Lockard said embarrassment and fear are the factors most likely to keep adults from learning to swim, but she said as both a low-impact activity and a life-saving skill, nothing should stop anyone from getting in the pool.

“I know I was embarrassed because I could never swim,” Plummer said. “When you see a 3-year-old swimming the length of the pool, you’re standing there saying, ‘Oh, now what?'”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning incidents declined overall between 1999 and 2010 for all age groups except for adults ages 45 to 84.

The center also reported that 37 percent of adults can’t swim the length of a 25-yard pool.

LeeAnn Aurandt, aquatics director at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, said about 15 adults each year request one-on-one swimming lessons.

Many of them are getting ready for vacation or have a relative who just installed a pool.

“They want to get in it. They don’t want their grandchildren to see fear,” she said.

The first thing she teaches them is personal safety.

“When you have a fear of the water, the first thing you do is close your eyes. You don’t know what’s going on, and it creates a fear because you can’t see anything,” she said.

Aurandt said instructors will provide goggles or teach new swimmers to keep their eyes open underwater so they can absorb their surroundings.

“It’s a whole new world under there. That alone is a skill,” she said.

Not all adults need to start from square one, either, said Antis Township resident C.J. Caracciolo.

“I’ve been in the water; I wouldn’t drown,” he said, adding that he’d taken swimming lessons as a child. “I just knew the technique wasn’t there anymore.”

Caracciolo said he was inspired to take lessons after a trip to Florida, when he decided he wanted to learn stand-up paddleboarding.

“I never got off my knees because I realized I can swim, but I’m not a strong swimmer,” he said. “The water was 20 to 30 feet deep.”

Caracciolo, who also took lessons with Lockard at The Summit, said relearning techniques allowed him to develop confidence in the water he never had before.

He said he learned to control his breathing and to make fluid movements in the water, and when he went paddleboarding this February in Florida, he did so with confidence.

“I still have a life jacket on, but I haven’t had to use it,” he said. “I knew something. I just had to get some fine-tuning.”

Lockard and Aurandt said they have students in all age ranges, and adults can learn as quickly as children.

“Kids have want but not the physical attributes to do it,” Lockard said. “The adults have the want, but they have to block their fear.”

Aurandt said her oldest student was a 82-year-old retired teacher. The woman had lost some mobility and couldn’t turn her head to the side to breathe, so instructors gave her a snorkel and goggles, and she was off, Aurandt said.

“I’ve never been prouder than I was when that 82-year-old woman swam the length of the pool by herself,” she said.

Big breakthroughs come when students are comfortable putting their face in the water, blowing a bubble out and coming up to fill their lungs with new air.

Then they’re well on their way, Aurandt said, and they know “nothing’s going to get you.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.