· Week 1

I intend to do a Triathlon. But there is a small problem... I am afraid of water and cannot swim!

I finally got some recommendations and joined the De Anza College for PE 26A, the novice swimming class. Yesterday was the first day of the Spring semester class. The class started at 10AM with a large number of nervous students sitting on the bleachers for the instructor to start the class. It was a little cold. Mary Donahue spent more than an hour on the class formalities, getting signatures, tour of the locker rooms, giving us details of her expectations of the class, grading system, homework and term paper details. Mary will have us dive into the water on the last day of class! It is scary to think of this but I am excited at the thought! The class started very slow but we finally got to go into the water.

What was nice:

-There were at least 4 additional instructors in the water to help us students. We spent a good amount of time in the water.

- We began by forming beach balls (crouch position with legs at the chest) and floating. With a partner we took turns and pushed the person in the beach ball deep into the water till they touched the floor. It is interesting to see how fast one actually floats back up!

- We were also taught how to stand up from that position.

- We then tried to float in an extended position. We kicked off from the wall and floated with arms and legs extended.

Not so nice:

- Mary was clear that she would not let anybody use goggles. With my poor eyesight, I would have preferred to use optical goggles (with corrective lenses) that I ordered from Keifer. But, I decided that I would rather go with the flow of the class and do as instructed and get familiar with the water. There must be a good reason she does not want us to wear goggles! I will not complain...I want to learn to swim! So far so good! Cannot wait to go back 10AM next Saturday.

Mary wants us to keep a journal. I thought it would be good to write a blog instead of the interesting journey ahead!

· Week 2

I was thinking of and eagerly waiting for day#2 of my swimming class. There was a lot that we got to do today. I seem to be getting more comfortable in the water and hope that I get over my fear completely!

Before going into the pool, Mary demonstrated to us the hand and the leg movements needed to stay afloat. The hand motion, when it is used, is sculling. It can be compared to spreading frosting on a giant birthday cake. By properly waving the hands back and forth through the water, the swimmer creates a force perpendicular to the direction of motion. The legs seem to follow a cycling motion.

We also witnessed a mock rescue operation, where a swimmer was carried from the center of the pool to the side and then pulled out of the water. This was done as follows: place arms under each of the victim’s armpits. Bend your arms back so you are pointing at yourself. The victims face is above water. Paddle to safety.

When in the pool we began with floating in beach ball position, with a partner pushing me down to the bottom. I have made a few friends. I seem to end up as a partner with Melanie or Zoreh. It is interesting how fast one floats right back up. As a bonus, she gave a few of us instructions on how to somersault inside water and a few other tricks. It felt horrible the first time I tried to somersault. There was water in my nose that seemed to choke me. There was water in my ears and I felt disoriented! After a few determined attempts, I was doing a few somersaults in a row. Then extended my new-found skill to do a little water salsa! I tried touching the floor and sticking my legs out vertically and trying out a few imaginary dance moves like I have seen in water ballet shows! :)

We floated horizontally, with hands straight along the body, propelling forward with very simple movement of legs called the flutter kick (no splashing). We focused on the shoulder to roll the body from floating on the stomach to floating on the back and so on. Eventually, I did a cork screw, turning four times. It was a lot of fun!

I feel like a little kid excited with the achievements of the day!

· Week 3

I was, as usual, anxiously waiting for my third swimming lesson at De Anza College pool.

Mary began the class by having us watch a short video on beach safety. The video was informative, giving details of rip currents and the basic rules to follow if ever caught in one of them. The video was followed by a short hands-on demo on handling an unconscious person. The single biggest issue when a person is unconscious is the tongue sliding back and blocking the airway. The first thing that is done is to hold the chin and tilt the head backwards. This helps keep the tongue from slipping backwards. The other way to keep the person from getting worse, is to extend one arm straight behind the head. The other arm is folded to the opposite shoulder. The leg on the same side is bent at the knee. The whole body is then turned over towards the side of the straightened arm. The head naturally bends downwards, resting on the straight arm. This also ensure that the airway stays open.

We then followed instructions to do the scissor kick and sculling, needed to tread water.

It was almost an hour before we went into the water. We repeated a lot of the drills we did the last time (beach ball float, somersaults in water, floating on the back and the stomach). Some of us who could successfully do these drills, spent time helping the other students. I spent some time teaching two students to somersault. While they choked, gulped and got water up their nose, I could not help but notice how hairy they were! Distractions aside, it was very rewarding to see them be successful at the end!

Mary was nice about letting us spend more time in the pool if we wanted to. I continued to practise to float on my stomach, hands along the body and turning in the water alternating between floating on my stomach and on my back. Much like a corkscrew. I was breathing when on my back and turning back on my stomach to move forward. I managed to get across 3/4 of the pool just doing this. I also tried to tread water, sculling and doing the scissor kick. Hector, one of the aides, demonstrated to a few of us. It is hard to say if it is working since we are still in shallow water. It is easy to get the conceptual idea but needs practice to realize it. Lets see how long it takes me to learn this.

· Week 4

You must be wondering what Soldier, Monkey and Airplane has to do with swimming! I wondered too!

Well, this is the unorthodox way to propel forwards when floating on the back! Think of standing like a soldier, arms straight like in attention. Then run your hands along the body, with fingers up to the armpit to look like a monkey. Then extend the arms across like an airplane. Lo and behold, I found myself gliding through the water and moving backward! What a wonderful feeling it is! While looking up at the grey sky, I repeated the instructions "soldier, monkey, airplane, soldier, monkey..." and did my FIRST lap across the pool! I tried a few more laps and convinced myself that I was indeed beginning to make waves! Well almost! :)

Before we entered the water, we had watched a short video which demonstrated freestyle swimming. With the camera in all kinds of positions, the illustrations and commentary was superb. Armed with all the theoretical knowledge, I needed to translate it into real life!

We tried another drill called "chicken drumsticks"! This involved gliding in the water with arms tucked in. With fingers in the armpits, we tried to swim with only the arm stumps! Funny thing to try. After we did this a few times, Mary asked us to try to swim freestyle across the pool. I tried to swim as far as I could go and then figured I had to breathe too! I tried to follow what I had seen in the video. With a few gulps of fresh air and a strong determination, I did my first freestyle swim across the pool (shy of a few meters!). I was tired. I attempted this a few more times but could not make it across the pool; I ran out of breath. Hopefully, I will figure out the rhythm and the technique to breathe in the next lesson. Lets see how it goes.

I feel like a little kid who has discovered to read small words! The possibilities are endless! With the encouragement from the teaching assistants and our instructor Mary Donahue, I think the class is making big progress. More than half the class was making an attempt to swim.

I cannot wait to get back into the pool next Saturday!

· Week 5

It is 5 weeks since I have began learning swimming with Mary Donahue. I have no access to a pool to practice what I learn during the class. So, part of my living room carpet area is dedicated for my scissor kicks and mock freestyle swimming! My son has also left me a snorkel so I can practice and accompany him on a future offshore trip to see marine life! :)

While I reflect back on each class I notice that there is a really good structure to Mary's teaching methodology. It is hard to get the kind of success I see in this class without a really good teacher. Mary also has fabulous teaching assistants. A big Thanks to all the teaching assistants Hector, Michelle, Patrick, Vivenne, (I am missing a few names) for their continued encouragement and support! They are so full of energy and enthusiasm to teach us novices, swimming skills.

Today's milestone was to jump feet first into the 5 feet deep side of the pool. Mary demonstrated how to perform this skill and talked about the consequences of doing it the wrong way.

It was intimidating at first, but I did it. In fact, we all did it. There is so much support from Mary, the aides and from my classmates. With this first taste of success, we all made a beeline to jump into the pool. I had my share of landing on my knee and my butt (none of them being serious) but with continued feedback from the aides and my swimming partner Melanie, I started getting better at it. Learning is so much easier in such an environment. While I stared at my pink nail polish and focused before jumping into the pool, Mary continued to push us and take our new-found-skill to the next level. Jump in, float, do the corkscrew, breathe, swim! I did my first free-style lap across the pool, sans my flipping over on my back to breathe! ;)

The chlorine in the pool bothered me a little today. I hope to bring swimming glasses next time. Cannot wait to be back in the pool next week. Dang.... it is Memorial Day weekend and there is no lesson. OK, the Saturday after. Till then, I will practice in my living room!

· Week 6

I had my first taste of jumping from a diving board into a 15 feet pool! Yeah!

Fifteen minutes into the class, while we floated around in the shallow pool, scissor-kicking and stuff, Mary surprised us by saying that we were going to be moving to the West side pool and jumping from the diving boards! There was obviously apprehension and sounds of nervousness around the pool. After all we have been trying to learn swimming only for 6 weeks! Are we ready for the deep pool? What if?

There were at least 10 trained lifeguards-cum-swimming assistants in the west-pool when we got there. We entered the water, crawling along the walls, holding on for dear life. We did a few drills in the deep pool preparing ourselves for the actual jump. This included pulling up along the wall, taking a deep breath and letting go! It takes a few seconds, maybe 4 sec or less, for the person to surface back up. While we took turns at letting go and cheered our classmates along, there were two lifeguard assistants in the water with each student. This drill got done pretty fast or so it seemed! This exercise helped me prepare mentally and got me ready for the bigger plunge!

We moved to business and took turns at the two diving boards on the west side of the pool. The first brave lady, did her first jump. It was, what Mary called, a belly flop. I am sure we were all clumsy in our own way. Many of the students walked to the end of the plank only to reverse back scared. But very soon, most of us had our first taste of a jump into the deep pool. I had done what I had not thought I could and am very proud of it! It had a lot to do with the thought that there were half a dozen wonderful lifeguards around in the water when I jumped! They are really wonderful people, very encouraging and flexible. I did five jumps.

Still a while to go to be able to swim and master the art of breathing normally. Slowly but surely I will get there. For now, I bask in my own glory! :)