Swimming Past Barriers

By Jim McCloskey

Why don’t more of us know how to swim?

As I’ve discussed in several of my blogs through the past few months, I’m a firm believer that everyone should master this basic and essential survival skill.  As fervently, I believe that encouraging comfort in and around water is the key to watershaping’s future:  Without it, why would a homeowner, property manager or municipal decision-maker ever see a swimming pool, pond, fountain or any other watershape as more than a risk or hazard to be avoided?

There are at least three factors I’ve identified as being behind the growing deficit in swimming skills, two of which I’ve discussed before.

First, there’s the issue of access:  In some locations, getting to a place where you can swim is difficult or expensive or both, facts that remove the impulse even interested, motivated parents might have to get their kids into the water – or themselves, for that matter.  Public and private schools are seldom involved in general swimming education these days, so the municipal resource I grew up with has declined as well.

Second, there’s the infrastructure issue:  So many of the most accessible pools are of an age where they’re costly to maintain, have a hard time generating enough revenue to be self-sustaining and have become ripe candidates for closure and eventual demolition.  Linked to this situation are the expense of repairs and the far greater expense of replacement.  The result:  It’s easy to understand why so many areas offer so few learn-to-swim opportunities.  And where outdated or outmoded facilities are being replaced, quite often it’s with spray parks – fun and water-related, but no valuable swimming skills required!

A third issue comes to mind as well:  We live in a society where body consciousness is much more of a driving factor in the way we live than it should be – particularly for adults who should learn to swim, but also for children and young adults who, for whatever reason, quail at the thought of being seen in public in a bathing suit.

I know this phenomenon from personal experience:  The health club I’ve belonged to for nearly 30 years was extensively remodeled not long ago, and a two-lane lap pool was added as an amenity.  Lots of people use it, but I’m not one of them:  The pool room has a glass wall just about every member passes in the course of a visit, and I immediately recognized that I’m a bit too self-conscious to want share glimpses of my carcass with anyone – even though I know they could care less what they’d see of me.  (Heck, I have a pool and spa in my backyard and am reluctant to use it when anyone other than my wife is around.)

Upon reflection, I’ve been a little bit this way since I was a young adult.  I spent a lot of care-free time at the beach as a kid, but by the time I was a teenager I was aware that, although always trim, I lacked a good “beach bod.”  One nice consequence of this is that I stayed in the water a lot and became an amazingly capable swimmer and an artful body-surfer, so it wasn’t all bad.  But my self-perceived lack of an Adonis-type physique was a personal issue I grappled with then and am still vain enough to allow it to limit me even as I advance in years.

I envy those who don’t have these issues, but they’ve been real for me and for many others – so many others that I see this as sort of a third rail that keeps swimming from being the universal skill I believe it should be.  Short of reverting to Victorian swimming costumes that basically would take all the fun out of a day at the beach or by the pool, there’s no easy answer for this one.

Of course, a private backyard pool is the answer – but with that thought we’ve come full circle:  Without swimming skills, where’s the base of enthusiasm required to drive such an acquisition?  And again, what does all of this say about the future of watershaping?

More to come.

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