I learned to swim as an adult. And I can honestly say it is the best money I’ve ever spent.
I was born in East Africa to Indian parents. Which tells you everything about my swimming journey. It is simply not part of the culture. Nor is it a priority when there are so many demands on scant finances. But, nevertheless, water always held a certain fascination for me, a certain feeling of missing out because I couldn't swim.
By the time I moved to the UK, at a time when learning to swim in the UK was also not as formalised as it is today, I was well behind my peers at school. So my experience of swimming lessons amounted to a few short sessions paddling rather aimlessly in the shallow end of a pool with very little focused teaching as such.
And that was that bar a few aborted attempts to learn in the odd free group session in my late teens.
Fast forward to me approaching my 30th birthday. I’m now working – an office-based job, which led to the beginnings of lower-back pain, enough for me to go and see a physiotherapist. Of course, the cause of my pain was simple: my muscles were getting weak due to lack of use, sitting all day for long hours at a time. Get active, he said. Swimming would really help, he said. No good to me, I thought!
Not long after, sitting on the underground commuting, flicking through a copy of Time Out, a little ad in the sport section caught my attention and took me on one of the most important journeys I'll ever take. Adult one-to-one swimming lessons. One of the biggest barriers is, of course, getting over the embarrassment of it all. However, I finally summoned up enough courage to ring up to enquire, and before I knew it, I was all signed up. The owner of the swim school was a no-nonsense guy who told me that swimming lessons were all well and good, but if I was serious about learning then I had to practise in between lessons. My teacher was a university student, a member of the uni swimming team, with the most amazing breaststroke covering almost a quarter of the pool in one stroke.
My aim was to learn front crawl as it puts least strain on the neck and back. I had 20 lessons in all. Two terms. And I practised religiously two to three times a week in between lessons at my local pool. With no concept of how to breathe underwater, and no idea of treading water, barely venturing but a few centimetres from the edge of the pool, I gradually worked on putting together what vaguely resembled a recognised swimming stroke. I had weeks where I would run out of breath at the same spot in the pool – that elusive first complete length of the pool seemed a distant goal.
Then it happened. One whole length without stopping. I was happy. That was it. I was done. But my teacher was not finished. She was keen to ensure I learned all the strokes – we worked on breaststroke, backstroke and even butterfly (although that is still in the to do list!). And she was determined to ensure I learned bilateral breathing. So I did.
And I have not looked back. Those 20 lessons changed my life.
Today, I swim regularly, almost every day. I can easily do 3km of swimming and even 5km is no hardship. I have been open water swimming, canoeing and kayaking, snorkelling all over the world, and I even learned to scuba dive, ironically off the East African shores of where I grew up. I am fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been and I have made some amazing friends along the way.
I guess by the time I decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge, I was lucky enough to be able to be able to afford one-to-one lessons. But it has been the best personal investment I’ve ever made or am ever likely to make. My advice to others? Don’t think about it, just do it. You won’t regret it.