ALTS in Oregon City

The month of April has been proclaimed Adult Learn-to-Swim month by the governor of the State of Oregon.  The Adult Learn-to-Swim program has been a great success throughout the United States.  This was the third year that the program was offered at the Oregon City Municipal Swimming Pool.  It is a four-week course with a total of eight in-pool sessions lasting 30 minutes each.  Every swimmer who has taken this class has been able to swim an entire length of our 25-meter pool swimming both backstroke and freestyle.

Teaching Adult Learn-to-Swim has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  The participants learn to swim basic freestyle and backstroke and also focus on water safety.  To see adults overcome their fear of water and learn to embrace it is heartwarming.  The following testimonies speak for themselves:

From Linda Fisher:

“My name is Linda Fisher and I’d like to share my success story.  I’m a retired teacher and live in Oregon City with my husband, Bob.  When I was 6 years old, I was at the lake with my family.  I waded out into the water like any kid, but little did I know it dropped off quickly.  I found myself in water over my head, struggling to reach the surface.  Thankfully someone came to my rescue, but I have been terrified of the water ever since.  For 61 years I didn’t participate in family outings: canoeing, swimming, snorkeling and many other activities because of my crippling fear of the water.  Learning to swim has been on my bucket list for more than 20 years and I finally gained the courage to take the Adult Learn-to-Swim Class at the Oregon City Pool.  I arrived for my first lesson feeling nervous not knowing what to expect.  I was anxious and frankly embarrassed that I was 67 years old and didn’t know how to swim.  Our swim instructor, Tim, immediately put me at ease.  After that first lesson, I was more determined than ever to do this!  By the second week I was feeling more confident and less afraid.  I was learning how to float, kick, and have my face under water.  At the end of the 4-week class I swam the length of the pool and back.  Sixty-one years of fear gone in 4 weeks!!  Remarkable!  I’m so excited to continue practicing and improving my new skills.”

From Olana Bogale:

“I was born in a capital city of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.  I hadn’t any experience in Ethiopia because I don’t have any access to swim most of the time, I go to school then when I come back home, I played soccer, that’s what my life routine was.

“I came to USA in 2012.  I came here to get a job and working hard in 2017.  I have a baby, her name is Kate.  That’s my turning point to go swimming classes.  I decided she had to learn swimming but before that I have to learn for myself because I am the one who takes her to the pool.  That was my decision and I register to Oregon City Swimming Pool.

“At the first class I met two other friends.  After we introduced ourselves to the instructor, we started by putting our heads in the water and breathe out the bubbles.  I tried to do that, the first time is hard, but when I tried again and again I did it properly.

“After we overcame the fear of water, the instructor told us to hold the side wall of the pool and float by facing up and down.  I tried to do that but my body sank into the water.  The instructor told me to relax my body.  When I was fully relaxed, my body started to float on the water.

“The hardest part of this class is breathing when swimming.  The instructor showed us how to hold the kick board straight and put our faces into the water.  Kicking to swim was very hard for me but thanks to the instructor showing us a lot of techniques, I finally did it.

“This is in short, my experience in swimming the first time in my entire life.  I did this because of my instructor.  He is a very hard worker and he didn’t give up on my training.  He used many different techniques and if one was not working, he used another way.  That’s why I finished the class and finally crossed to the other side of the pool on the last day of class.”

From Susan Wells:

“I always avoided walking on a dock near water for the sheer terror of slipping and falling into the water; nor did I ever enjoy being on a boat, fearing the boat would sink and I would too.  I knew if anyone ever fell in the water, I would be helpless in offering them assistance.  I did not want to be a fatality statistic of someone who didn’t know how to swim attempting to help someone who was drowning.  I did not grow up around water and did not have the opportunity to learn as did my peers.  I visited the pool with friends on occasion but always stayed in the shallow end.

“I turned 50 this past year and look for ways to remain active.  I looked through the quarterly newsletter about upcoming events that the city puts out; I noticed semi-private lessons offered but was always afraid to sign up for them because I was “too old”.  This quarter I noticed “Adult Learn-to-Swim” lessons.  Once again, I thought, I would like to learn to swim, but set the newsletter aside thinking it was for other people, and I was not allowed to register for the course.  I thought about it again the next day and still did not register.  Being overweight, I was afraid I would not find a suit that would fit, so I used that as my excuse not to register.  I went shopping and found a suit, I now had no excuse, so I called and registered.  I did not even tell my husband that I was signing up until it was a done deal.  Neither of us are swimmers and he was proud of me for registering.  As it drew nearer to the time my lesson was to begin, even though I was excited about the class, I had to talk myself into showing up for the lesson.  I was ready to back out altogether, but because I had registered, I felt obligated to attend.  I told my instructor, Tim, before class started that I almost cancelled because I was afraid of the water.  I don’t even like putting my face in water during a shower because I am claustrophobic and panic.  Among other things, I was afraid of failing.  I am a person who doesn’t like to fail at anything—if I can’t be successful, I don’t even want to try.  When we were waiting for our turn to enter the pool for the first time, one former student walked by and was telling us about swimming laps and that she had learned to swim in the same program a year earlier.  I thought, “That’s great, but I’ll never be able to do that.”  By the end of the first night of class, I was putting my whole head under water, and my fear was gone.  Before class started, I could not swim, by the end of the first class I was taking baby steps in swimming under the water.

“When I signed up, I was afraid that I would be the only person my age in the swim class, but I was the youngest of the three.  We all supported and encouraged each other and built confidence in our abilities.  I even went to the pool on my own, outside of lessons.  Before the end of the eight lessons, I purchased an annual pass to the pool so that I could continue to improve.  Some of us meet up between lessons during open-swim time at the pool to practice, critique, and encourage each other.  My instructor was awesome—I was not made fun of for never learning as a child; I was never made to do anything I was uncomfortable doing, although I was encouraged to have faith in my abilities; and was given positive feedback to improve my skills.  I thought I would never get it and that I was too old to learn, but each concept was introduced in steps and then put multiple steps together.  I am no Olympic swimmer, but I am improving each time I go to the pool.  I learned to float on my back, do a back stroke, swim freestyle under water, and have fun doing it.  We even swam 25 meters into the deep end without flotation devices to assist us.  The first time I swam that distance, I had to stop a few times to catch my breath, but with practice, I’m positive I’ll be able to complete the entire 25 meters without breaks, not there yet, but my goal is to be there before summer starts, I know I can do it.  Part of the fun of taking lessons is arriving early and seeing all the young children learning the skills I learned and observing them not having the fear that I have harbored for half a century.

“I’m telling all my adult peers that don’t know how to swim, “If I can do it, you can too—you’re never too old to learn”.  (I just wished I had the opportunity to learn when I was younger.)  I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years will be like adding swimming to my abilities.  I will not have to go on vacation and limit my activities to land-based fun.  I will be able to snorkel, surf, swim in the pool, water ski, and take boating excursions.  I enjoy swimming and would recommend learning to swim to anyone.  If YOU are thinking about learning to swim as an adult, find lessons and pour yourself into it.  No one will ridicule you, actually, people think, “I wish it was me”.  I know because I’ve heard people say that when I talk about my experience.

“Oh, and an added benefit, I have noticed a small amount of weight loss just in the month of taking classes.”


It is success stories like these that have helped the Adult Learn-to-Swim program become more and more popular with adults.  We will be applying for a Swimming Saves Lives grant to provide additional classes and make the program more affordable.

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