Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lessons give grownups confidence in the water

For adults, it’s no longer sink or swim

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Biruk Kifle, a Silver Spring resident originally from Ethiopia, gets instruction from swimming instructor Margaux Portillo on Friday at the YMCA on Hastings Drive in Silver Spring.
‘‘Everybody floats,” swim instructor Margaux Portillo told 17-year-old Biruk Kifle before instructing him to submerge himself in the deep end of the Silver Spring YMCA’s indoor pool.

His fingers curled over the edge of the pool wall, Kifle watched as Portillo demonstrated the technique that would prove her theory.

‘‘Take a deep breath and slide down the wall,” Portillo said before dunking her head under the water, releasing her hands from the edge of the pool and floating back up to the surface.

Friday was Kifle’s first lesson in the YMCA’s eight-week adult advanced beginner swim class, the second level for beginning adult swimmers at the pool. And while he may be older than most of the center’s summer pupils, some as young as 6 months old, Kifle said it’s never too late to work on the basics: strokes, breathing and floating.

‘‘It’s essential. ... You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll have to be able to swim in deep water,” said Kifle, a Silver Spring resident. Kifle arrived in the United States two years ago from Ethiopia, and never learned to swim because he did not feel it was an important skill in his country.

There are usually two reasons people learn how to swim later in life, said Albert ‘‘Tito” Baca, a swim instructor at Montgomery College’s Takoma Park⁄Silver Spring campus. There are those who haven’t been exposed much to water, and those who have had a bad experience while swimming as a child, such as a near-drowning.

‘‘You have to act like they shouldn’t be afraid of anything,” Baca said. ‘‘They’re usually very responsive to that. They do want to learn. They do want to overcome their fears.”

Sami Holtz, a Silver Spring resident and swim coach at the Parkland Pool in Wheaton, said the most difficult move to master for children or adults afraid of the water was floating on their backs.

‘‘It’s a rather insecure feeling when you first start doing it,” she said.

Karen Epstein, a swim instructor and pool operator at the Silver Spring YMCA, said swim classes for children are almost expected and many parents want to learn how to swim for their children. Portillo, who has 30 years experience as a swim instructor, said one man took lessons because he had to call for help rather than save his son himself when he accidentally fell into the water.

Others are motivated by their children in different ways. For Silver Spring resident Alan Kanner, it was his 11-year-old daughter that got him back into the pool swimming competitively. Kanner was on a swim team when he was 7 years old, but left the sport until his daughter joined the team at age 7 at Silver Spring’s Daleview Swimming Pool.

‘‘Seeing her doing laps reminded me of doing laps at 7 or 8,” said Kanner, who conditioned himself well enough to do the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in June.

To move on to the next level, Kifle will have to become more comfortable in the deep end and improve his endurance by showing he is able to swim several laps in the pool. It is common for beginning swimmers to repeat the levels, said Max Basin, aquatics director at the Silver Spring YMCA.

‘‘He’s thinking about it too much,” Basin said while watching a tense Kifle kick down the length of the pool, his hands wrapped tightly around a floating barbell made to help beginning swimmers stay afloat.

At the end of his lesson, Kifle seemed ready for his next one, admitting that his first class had been a challenge.

‘‘Breathing is the hardest part,” Kifle said, adding that managing his breathing while remembering everything else he was learning was not easy.

‘‘It’s supposed to be a progression,” Portillo said of teaching older swimmers. ‘‘When you build up confidence, you’re in control of the water.”