If you are an adult living in Southwest Florida who has never learned to swim, it’s time to check that item off your bucket list. With our beautiful climate and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, you’ve sat on the sidelines for too long. Luckily for you, Naples boasts a variety of opportunities for adults to learn this valuable skill.
Adults wait to learn to swim for a variety of reasons. Many adults living in Naples are transplants from other areas where opportunities for swimming aren’t as readily available. Others have had traumatic experiences that have kept them out of the water.
For many adults overcoming these types of obstacles, the safety of their children is their inspiration. Jeanne Epps, owner of Aqua-Paired and a private swim instructor, regularly teaches adults who are just learning to swim for the first time. “Adults beginning to swim for the first time have a variety of motivations,” she said. “Some adults own a pool and as their children learn to swim, they realize the importance of water safety and desire to learn to swim as well.”
From doggy paddle to Ironman
Others, such as Jennifer Weidenbruch, a Naples resident who took swimming lessons through the YMCA, seek swimming instruction based upon a motivation to compete in triathlons. “The greatest success story I’ve had is Jennifer,” Danny Soto of the Greater Naples YMCA shared with me. “She went from not knowing how to swim a single length of the pool to completing an Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile open water swim) in one year.” Weidenbruch’s husband was preparing to compete in an Ironman, and encouraged her to join him. “I felt confident in the running and cycling portions of the training and competition, but I was not confident at all about the swimming portion,” she shared. “At the time, I couldn’t really swim much beyond a doggy-paddle.”
Weidenbruch sought out instruction through the Greater Naples YMCA. “Within three or four lessons, I felt much more confident. The private lessons with my instructor gave me the skills and techniques I needed. I set small goals for myself, and I was able to reach them. I competed in a sprint-distance triathlon and Olympic triathlon before completing the Ironman,” she said.
Weidenbruch offered encouragement to other adults in a similar situation. “Don’t be embarrassed. I felt embarrassed when I first got going with swim lessons. I asked to schedule lessons during a time when the pool was empty. The YMCA graciously accommodated, but as I continued on, I realized there was no need to be embarrassed. I really enjoyed the process.”
The Greater Naples YMCA, in partnership with Naples Swim School, offers private lessons for adults, as well as a Masters Swim Program through T2 Aquatics at the Norris Aquatic Center, according to Soto. Private lessons are available to adults of all levels.
“The foundational components do not change based on age,” Soto said. “The lessons are taught by our best instructors, and they tailor their approach based on the individual. Determining what type of learning that individual is most receptive to is more important than any technique adjustment based on age. Our instructors have many tools in their bag, and they use them all.”
The Greater Naples YMCA fields many inquiries from adults who classify themselves as beginning swimmers. “Every new swimmer thinks they are the worst swimmer the instructor will meet, and they are wrong,” Soto said. “It is never too late to become water safe, especially if you have children. But no matter what your purpose or your goals, learning to swim is worth the investment.”
Don’t bring a snake to the pool
Kate Davenport, owner of Essential Swim Lessons in Naples, approaches adult beginning swimmers with the same encouraging message. “Adults are usually a little embarrassed and self-conscious about not knowing how to swim and tend to give up quickly. It definitely is a long process. For those attempting to overcome a fear or phobia, the process of learning to swim is extremely difficult. I tell all adult swimmers not to bring a snake (snakes are my phobia) to a lesson, and I promise not to scare them in the pool. I don’t think I would be as brave as the adults who call me for lessons.” How does Davenport motivate her students to continue? “I often tell students about my first time floating in the water; it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I can only equate it to walking on the moon. Swimming is freedom, and I want every one of my students to experience that joy,” she said.
Ester Alvarez, one of Davenport’s students, had a negative past experience that affected her view of swimming. “After both my older sisters got in the adult-only pool at a theme park and almost drowned, I decided I didn’t want to go anywhere near water,” Alvarez explained. “When I moved to Naples, I thought it might be wise to learn to swim. I took a few lessons here and there, but I needed personalized instruction to overcome my fear of water. Kate’s main focus was to teach me how to feel comfortable underwater and to overcome my fears. After about a month of sessions and a lot of hard work, it just came to me. I was calm and relaxed in the water, and I swam! It was so exciting and such a satisfying feeling I had never experienced before. Kate taught me how to swim, but she also taught me how to be patient and to persevere.”
Davenport works alongside her daughter, Sarah, who also instructs adult beginning swimmers. “My best techniques foster a sense of trust with students and providing encouragement every step of the way. I want to make adult swimmers feel comfortable, and I try to reassure them so they trust me as an instructor. During lessons, I use a variety of methods and give positive feedback to counter self-doubt.”
Jeanne Epps of Aqua-Pairing introduces skills and techniques in a methodical way to adults learning to swim for the first time. “I start with kicking, and then we move on to strokes and breathing patterns. I get in the water with my students so they can see and experience skills first-hand.”
When her students start swimming laps with confidence, Epps knows they’ve acquired the ability to swim. “This can take anywhere from six weeks to four months, she said. “It depends upon a variety of factors. For some, I’m like a counselor or shrink – some of my students have had very negative experiences related to swimming in their childhood that they have anxiety about and need to move past.”
Whether your goal is to enjoy the pool and Gulf of Mexico with your family (and keep your kids safe at the same time), increase your options for physical fitness, or compete in a triathlon, now is the to “take the plunge”.
For additional information, contact:
Greater Naples YMCA (in partnership with Naples Swim and T2 Aquatics), 239-591-0204.
Essential Swim, 239-465-8602
Collier County Parks & Recreation, 239-252-4000
Aqua-Paired, LLC, 239-272-3861.
ANNA SNYDER has a degree in English and Secondary Education from Wheaton College. She and her husband, Jim, have a daughter, Windley. Anna is passionate about writing, cooking, running, and playing the piano.