Dive in! You’re never too old to learn to swim

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Michele Roberts
For The Lancaster News
Science tells us 70 percent of the Earth is covered with water of some kind (not counting the water in swimming pools), and swimming is certainly a popular recreational sport. But can you be too old – or too young – to learn how to swim? In Lancaster, the answer is most decidedly no.
University of South Carolina Lancaster aquatic instructor Anne Small has been a swim instructor for 30 years. She says age makes no difference when learning the skills it takes to be a swimmer.
“I have babies in here as young as 6 months old,” she said. “And I have older adults that come in as well. The only difference is the learning factor between kids and adults.
“Children learn by the repetitive training,” she said. “They learn quickly to close their mouth on the count of three, or put their face in the water on the count of three.
“And then there is the fear factor,” Small said. “Young children don’t have that fear yet, so they do what I ask them to do without worrying.
“You can reason with adults, though, even if they are afraid, and get them to understand that the body will float like a feather in the water if it is relaxed,” she said. “The most important thing is to let them know we will take care of them. We won’t let anything happen, and we won’t let you go before you’re ready. Anyone at any age can learn how to swim.”
Dr. Kristin Black of New Day Family Practice is a good example of learning to swim at an older age. At 39, Black took swimming lessons for a number of reasons, in spite of her fear of deep water.
“I knew how to do the basic stuff, like the doggie paddle, but I couldn’t do more than that because I was scared of deep water,” she said. “But I have children now, and I felt that I needed to be more comfortable in the water because of them, in the event anything should happen. I also did it so I could participate in a mini-triathalon this year, plus it is a great way to get healthy. I think it’s something everyone should do.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Isabella Thorpe, who turned 5 on June 8. She has been swimming since she was 6 months old, and her father, Chris, says she absolutely loves being in the water.
“We started the swimming lessons to get her involved in an activity,” he said. “My wife and I are both swimmers, and we agreed it was also for her protection, so she wouldn’t drown. But once she started, she really enjoyed it, and loved swimming with Anne and the other instructors. She’s made a lot of friends at the (USCL) pool, and this really went further than my wife and I even imagined it would.”
Four-year-old Blythe Hileman also started taking swimming lessons at 6 months old. Her mom, Mary Beth, a former lifeguard and swim instructor at USCL, knew the value of getting her daughter in the water right away.
“I knew it was a good idea, and she really enjoys it,” Hileman said. “She is involved in other extracurricular activities, but we always get her over there at least in the spring, so she’s ready for summer.”
Vickie Tillman, 41, also recently learned how to swim.
“My husband swims, and so do both of my daughters,” she said. “The girls have been taking lessons since they were 4.
“I always wanted to learn. I already knew how to float and I wasn’t afraid of the water.
“So I started at USCL two summers ago, and it’s been great. The first week was pretty challenging, but after I got my form, it was pretty easy.
“My husband asked me if I was ready for the river, ” Tillman said. “I told him I would stick to the pool for now, but it makes a difference knowing I could swim in the river if I had to.”