It is possible to get through an Aussie childhood without knowing how to swim.
It is possible to get through an Aussie childhood without knowing how to swim.

What it’s like to learn to swim as a grown woman

AT last, Grammy-winner John Legend and I have something in common.

It's not a supermodel wife or enviable musical talent, because I have neither of those.

Legend has revealed via Twitter that he is learning to swim as a grown-up, at the ripe old age of 40.

"I can't really swim," he tweeted. "Today I took my first swim lesson since I was like five. My dad learned in his '60s so I feel like I'm ahead of schedule."

Onya John. It's damn hard taking to the water as an adult. I should know, I did it too.

When people find out you can't swim, they always have the same reaction; incredulity, disbelief.

It seems that being a land-lubbing Australian is a shameful offence. Most of us learned to swim (in some shape or form) in school years, but like Legend I managed to slip through the cracks.

By the time I hit high school, I couldn't swim a lap and was too embarrassed to try in public. RELATED: Migrant swimming instructors to try and curb epidemic of immigrant drownings

Grammy winning singer John Legend, with his daughter, Luna, announced he’s learning to swim at the age of 40. Picture: Instagram/John Legend
Grammy winning singer John Legend, with his daughter, Luna, announced he’s learning to swim at the age of 40. Picture: Instagram/John Legend

At school swimming carnivals I sat on the bleachers cheering on my mates who were braver than I, including one who had never learned to swim properly either but always gave it a bash. I still admire the way she would thrash her way to the finish line, often coming last, but never giving up.

The final straw for me was being told by a jerk at a barbecue that not knowing how to swim is "un-Australian". Instead of telling him to get stuffed as he deserved, I was mortified, and decided that night to rectify the situation.

I bought some Speedos, goggles and super-strength conditioner (top tip for protecting blonde hair in chlorine) and enrolled in an adult swim class. Everyone else in the group was new to Australia, coming from India and China. They grew up in countries where backyard pools aren't the norm, then discovered that Aussies are judgemental pricks about this kind of thing.

Which is probably for the good given the number of migrants who drown in Australia's beaches, rivers and lakes every year.

 

We were in it together.

The training pool was 25m long and only waist deep, which for some reason amused my scathing friends more than anything (note to self, reconsider friendship group).

In the beginning, I was the best in the class, but the bar was terribly low. I could float, and blow bubbles with my face in the water. Top marks, Anna!

Over 12 months we worked our way through drills; kicking with two hands on a kickboard; taking strokes with one arm; and actual freestyle swimming with no kickboard, all the while experimenting with breathing. The hardest part was learning to turn only the head for each breath, instead of breaching like a whale for each desperate, watery gasp of air. I still do it from time to time. After every session I slept incredibly well, tired and satisfied.

The waist-deep pool and kiddie kick boards of my first swimming lesson were humiliating, but it introduced me to what is now one of my most loved pasttimes.
The waist-deep pool and kiddie kick boards of my first swimming lesson were humiliating, but it introduced me to what is now one of my most loved pasttimes.

Being a latecomer to the pool was never going to feel natural - I am acutely conscious of not belonging in the water - but eventually my basic skills progressed to the point that I could train with a squad, albeit in the slow lane which they kindly left for me. Learning a new skill as an adult is incredibly gratifying, and swimming has become something I love. The water is where I go to calm an overactive mind. Worries seem to dissolve after a dip, if only because I'm concentrating on not drowning. And being a late starter runs in the family, as my grandfather proudly got his first driver's license in his early 70s.

Take that, John Legend's dad.

Legend's admission of being unable to swim doesn't make him any less impressive (as if we need to talk the guy up), if anything it's rather endearing.

So if not being able to swim is your secret shame, take action now, and not because some loudmouth says you should.

Do it because it will make you feel wonderful.

Because it might save your life.

And because it can't hurt to have something in common with John Legend.

@Brainybites



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