Bobbing along the perimeter of the Pacific Park community pool Tuesday, 20-year-old swim instructor Jade Wilia tried to coax her students into a face-down floating position. Gripping the ledge, they stretched their legs behind them and began the flutter kick.
“It is an essential part of swimming, if you can’t kick, you can’t go anywhere,” Wilia said as she moved from student to student, helping them to keep their bodies horizontal in the water.
In the next lane over, 6-year-olds zoomed by, their kickboards propelled by churning legs. But Wilia’s students — who on any given day range in age from mid-teens to mid-60s — are just getting started.
“Remember, try and float keeping your body on top of the water,” she called out.
Adult swimming lessons have been a fixture of the city’s aquatics program since it launched in 2000, said Community Services Supervisor Gabrielle Goglia. Officially, the minimum age requirement is 18, but they accept younger teenagers when appropriate.
Participants start with the basics, including putting their face in the water and floating, before moving on to kicking, arm strokes and diving. Teaching adults to swim can be challenging because many have deep-harbored fears of the water, Goglia said.
“A lot of times, an adult who doesn’t know how to swim has a bad experience as a child, or is just very afraid of drowning,” Goglia said. “Children haven’t built up that fear over a lifetime.”
Drowning can occur even in small amounts of water, making it valuable for everyone to learn how to swim, she said.
“For adults, it is also very valuable for exercise reasons,” Goglia said. “With swimming there is no impact...The exercise can help heal any type of injury, it can help strengthen any kind of weakness due to injury, disease or age.”
Jessie Morcos, 44, learned about the adult swimming classes while taking her 6-year-old daughter to the pool. Now she is feeling confident enough to help her classmates practice a submerging exercise.
“I wasn’t a good swimmer in any sense of the word,” Morcos said. “Now I have learned seven new strokes, and that is in two weeks…This is an amazing program. The instructors are well-learned in their craft. They are very patient.”
Avima Sharma, 26, was raised in the mountainous region of Dehradun, India where she did not have access to a pool. She found the Pacific Park pool class online, and said she wasn’t concerned about being out-swam by children 20 years her junior.
“Right now, I am just trying to stay afloat,” she said.