Adults learn to swim.
By Amy Talbott | Photos by Clay Cook
This piece originally appeared in print in the August 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine.
The first step to teaching adults how to swim is getting them to relax. “We have people line up on the (pool) deck and do breathing exercises, almost like we’re teaching them how to breathe in a yoga class,” says Amy Benton, co-founder of the Adult Learn-to-Swim initiative. William Kolb, the program’s other leader, says the goal is to get people more comfortable in the water than they were before. For some students, that means swimming laps and diving at the conclusion of the four-week session. For others, it’s being able to float without panicking.
The program, which started in April 2018 through the local chapter of U.S. Masters Swimming, has graduated 186 students so far. Benton says she wanted to bring the classes to Louisville after teaching a recent high school graduate from west Louisville how to swim at Lakeside Swim Club. “As I got to know him, he would say, ‘My mom doesn’t swim, my grandparents don’t swim, nobody in my family swims. There’s nowhere in my neighborhood to swim,’” Benton says.
On a recent evening at the Central High School pool in the Russell neighborhood, 10 students warm up with some aqua jogging. One of them, 73-year-old Betty Bayé, says the last time she made a serious effort to learn to swim was about 30 years ago, when she had a YMCA membership through her job as a Courier-Journal reporter. Back then, she says, “I thought I was doing pretty good, but then I took in water and panicked. They told me to come back, but I never did.
“But people ought to live some of their dreams, and this was just a dream of mine. If I never become — and I’m going to date myself — Esther Williams, that’s OK. This is the equivalent for me of people climbing Mount Everest or jumping out of a plane.”
Another student, Abby Blair, yells out, “Float like a butterfly, swim like a fish!” Later, she lets out a triumphant “Yessss!” after she swims her very first lap, 50 meters of freestyle. Other students look at one another doubtfully as an instructor demonstrates swimming by kicking (and not paddling) to the middle of the pool. Then one does it and looks back at the wall, surprised at her accomplishment.