Sink or Swim

February 28, 2018


Have you ever felt dread in the pit of your stomach? The tingling nerves in your fingers? A strong urge to run in the other direction? I have, all triggered by the simple smell of chlorine and I’d be locking myself in the loo.


A few years ago, you’d have more chance getting a cat in a swimming pool than me - for around thirty years I didn’t even own a swimming costume. No, thank you, let’s leave the water to the fish. Yep, for me, the fear of water was real. 


"I was scared, so never

learned to swim."


I can remember when it started, all thanks to being accidentally pushed under water when I was younger. It was so simple and from then I was scared, so never learned to swim. I skipped lessons, absconded on family holidays, missed out on swimming with my children and even on my own hen do spa day, I only managed to lean against the wall in the shallow end of the pool with a big sigh of relief that I hadn’t drowned.


As an adult, when people would learn I couldn’t swim, they would often try to help with a little coaxing, to which my fears always had a response: 


“Just get in and try” 

And do what? Drown?


“Just get in the shallow end and relax” 

Relax? Can you not smell that killer chlorine! 


“Just stand up if you struggle” 

And what if I drown before my legs decide to work?


It was always “just” this and “just" that, when, in reality, to me it felt like life or death. It consumed everything. I didn’t like boats because they could sink or I could fall overboard. Flying over the ocean was frightening. Water - everywhere - was a threat, a looming reminder of my inability to tackle it. 


" urge rushed through me; 

I wanted to swim."


One day, aged 35, an urge rushed through me on holiday; I wanted to swim. I started to wish I’d been forced into learning. I remember thinking to myself that I’d become a hindrance, a bore around the pool. Alas, this was just the beginning and not simply a split second change.


Over the following three years I looked into having swimming lessons - yes, three whole years - and boy, did I have all the excuses.


“121 lessons are too expensive”

“The leisure centre lessons are at night” (Imagine!)

“Oops I missed the enrolment”


Let’s be honest, the image of myself in armbands didn’t exactly sell it and with hindsight, it all seems pretty hilarious. But it was part of my process for getting in the water, really showing myself that eventually, I wanted to swim.


I considered my life as a non-swimmer; I’d never swum with my family. I’d moved to the Lake District and, who knew, the Lakes are in fact water so swimming would probably be a good idea! Recalling my late Grandad himself having died a non-swimmer due to a similar incident when he was younger, I became determined to turn this around.


"this was “an opportunity not to be missed”"


Finally, I plucked up the courage to call the local instructor but was met with relief when his mum answered: he wasn’t in and yet another reason not to do it. I explained my predicament to her, and to my surprise we had a lot in common - she had been a non-swimmer too.  Here was another woman who had learned to swim, even at a much later age than I was. She told me she “never looked back” and eagerly promised to get her son to call me back because this was “an opportunity not to be missed” (her words, she was amazing). Hanging up that call, although still nervous, I felt empowered, she’d done it, I wasn’t the only one in the world who hadn’t learned to swim; I could do it.


The instructor called back on his mother's order and the idea of having a ‘serious non-swimmer’ was an exciting challenge for him. He felt engaged with it and after much coaxing and encouragement, my voice stopped quivering and I agreed to see him that following Monday.


Swimming costume purchased and feeling somewhat naked in it, I shuffled to the pool area on the Monday and met with my instructor.  Talk about nerves: almost in my birthday suit, meeting a stranger and all with the stench of chlorine filling the air! 


"The words “good for you”

several times over put me at ease"


Yet, not an armband in sight, no-one pointing and laughing, just a group of people at different stages of learning, chatting away. I realised I needn’t have been embarrassed.  They were actually impressed that I’d joined and was willing to learn. The words “good for you” several times over put me at ease, they helped me feel comfortable and I realised it was my own self-doubt that had cast a shadow over learning to swim. 


Each week, the”good-for-you"-ers asked how my swimming journey was going, cheering me in my successes.  The support from the other swimmers and the instructor truly helped and inspired me to give 100% each week.


In the six weeks I was there, I went from bobbing around the shallow end to get comfortable with being in water to being able to do five strokes of breast stroke! Yes, five actual strokes! 


"It was the best thing ever."


When I would return home after every lesson, my daughter would ask how I’d got on and every week I set my poker face and told her ‘I’m getting there’.  Then, one day, I dragged her to the pool, ‘to help build my confidence’ I told her.  You should have seen her face when she stopped at our usual non-swimmer marker, turned around and I was swimming right behind her! It was the best thing ever. She stood open mouthed spluttering the words “you’re swimming, you lied!” Her expression was priceless, as was my smile. 


Since learning to swim, I’ve swam in the sea (high five for me!) and my next goal is to get confident floating and treading water, as I haven’t ventured into deep waters yet, but watch this space.


I’m so proud that I’ve faced my fear head on, I swim regularly as a way to relax and have ‘me time’ and to keep fit. I enjoyed learning - despite drinking some of the pool water -  I’ve achieved something I once deemed unachievable, and that smell of chlorine? I like it! 


So all you non swimmers and those of you with fears, don’t let your fear stop you enjoying your life.  You can do it, face your fear! Life is for living. 


Now, if I may just shout…



“My name’s Sarah, I’m 39

and I’m a swimmer!”  


You can follow more of Sarah's

adventures on her blog, and

on instagram, facebook and

twitter @simplysarahblog .



Looking for your next adventure? In collaboration with No Boundaries, Get Out Girl is running the Women's Adventure Retreat on June 15th - 17th. For more information, booking & additional dates, click here.

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