Fear of Water (September-October 2011)
by, September 1st, 2011 at 12:00 AM (214 Views)
For the many experienced or lifelong swimmers in U.S. Masters Swimming, it can seem inconceivable that there are people who are terrified of getting into a swimming pool. What many of us take for granted—a safe, welcoming water world where one only has to pop up for air whenever the need arises—spells terror for some.
Plenty of pool swimmers are afraid to swim in open water, but that’s a little different. Being afraid of sharks can even seem logical (especially if you tuned in to “Shark Week” recently). Some swimmers just prefer clear water, where there is no question about what the bottom looks like or what icky things may be floating around or underfoot. These swimmers still have the ability to enjoy the water and keep themselves safe. Most properly educated swimmers have a healthy respect for the water, not a debilitating fear.
Nonswimmers with a deeply embedded fear of water have little or no chance of survival if they find themselves in the drink. Their panic will kill them, and possibly any would-be rescuers. They know this, so they avoid water, using tactics that are so subtle, they are often well into their adult lives before anyone notices that they have never been swimming. But they know the truth, and many of them carry guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.
Some of these people recognize the danger and their missed opportunities, so they ensure that their children learn to swim early and don’t suffer the same fate. Others pass their fears onto their children, creating another generation of risk and lost opportunities. In “Swimming Life,” we meet some USMS members who are making a difference in the lives of people who can’t swim. Melon Dash has spent her entire career teaching fearful adults how to swim. Taking up where traditional swimming lessons have failed, she specializes in the most terrified students. She runs her nonprofit with the goal of ending preventable drowning. Dash has touched more than 4,000 lives, giving these people the chance to enjoy and be safe in water.
Dash is not the only Masters swimmer who feels this way. In fall 2010, Coach Diane Bartlett and her team, Grand Strand Masters Swimming, focused their efforts in their community. Recognizing a need, they banded together for a week to offer free swim lessons to children and adults in their underserved South Carolina town. With a little help from a USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation grant, 26 adults and 94 children are well on their way to becoming competent swimmers.