“Learning to Swim”


I learned to swim at a very long very cold indoor swimming pool at my parents’ athletic facility, the Multnomah Athletic Club. I was a very short very skinny little girl, and even in the shallow end I couldn’t touch the bottom. I was equipped with water wings very similar to the photo above and told to jump in. I detested every minute of the experience, but I did learn to swim. I certainly never would have put fun and swimming in the same sentence.

Fortunately, each summer I went to Camp Fire Girls camp which also had a very big very cold outdoor pool, but it came with very kind, loving counselors. Each summer a different Red Cross swimming award was the goal of the week. The steps were very clear such as tread water for one minute and float on your back for one minute. Even the challenges when I was older were fun. One involved jumping in the pool fully clothed and removing my shoes before swimming to the edge. I even learned to dive from the side of the pool though I never mastered a dive off a board.

In the summers after I learned to swim I often went swimming with a friend at a neighbor’s pool, in the lake in the adjacent town,  or in the creek at my grandparents’ summer home. I never had any supervision in those places. I think parents generally assumed that kids could swim and left them alone. Even at the beach there were never any lifeguards. I was startled to find lifeguards all over the East coast beaches and large warnings if one wasn’t present.

Why were all those swimming pools so cold? Apparently the idea of heating a pool hadn’t caught on during my childhood. I never got into a heating pool until I joined the YWCA as an adult!


25 thoughts on ““Learning to Swim”

  1. I had to think about why they had you remove your shoes after you were in the water, since if you were rescuing someone you would remove your shoes first. Then I realized that the contingency they were preparing you for was unexpectedly falling in the water. Is that right?


  2. Your post reminded me of learning to swim as a child. Although the pools in our city were heated, barely is the best way to describe it. It is only fairly recently that I remember getting into bath warm swimming pools!


  3. We never had Camp Fire Girls near us, but I distinctly recall they sold chocolates and can see a small box from them somehow in my mind. Do you know about that? It makes sense that it would not compete with Girl Scout cookies.

    We swam in some giant manmade lake that was so dark that you couldn’t see the bottom. I hated some of it, but loved swimming underwater and could go really far without breathing, to the point that a lifeguard told me I had freaked him out at times and he always watched way far out to see where I would come up. I got a number of Red Cross little cards over the years too, although I never liked or did well at the stroke where the face goes in and then sideways and the water goes in the mouth although it wasn’t supposed to.


    1. Yes. We sold Camp Fire mints. I never mastered the crawl either. I still stick to back stroke and breast stroke. The oddest one we learned was the butterfly. I have no idea who thought that one up. Glad to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The backstroke was always the most fun for me, since it guaranteed more breathing than the others! I hope you are well–we are having a lot of crisis-type things going on with health of parents lately, so I am not reading so much online for the last while–but I will when i can!


        1. Fortunately(and I mean that which is terrible I know to any outsider with a normal family)both of my parents have died. That ended much drama. I hope that yours are more pleasant and that you are just tired.


        2. The mother and mother-in-law both had heart crises the past couple of weeks, surgery for both, so it seems the drama will do what it does. I don’t get too worked up about it, and am glad my mother seems to be rather gracefully winding down. The other mother is very much alive and kicking everything in sight–


  4. I have many fond memories of swimming as a child – in lakes – at the beach – in pools – but have no memory of ever learning how to swim! Since I am #4 of 6 children I must have picked it up from the others. Thus, I am not a great swimmer but rather a careful one, and I prefer splashing around in the water to cool down in hot weather, not for the exercise.


  5. Here in Australia we had swim lessons in primary school as a part of Summer Sports/PE. Then big swim carnivals at the end of each Summer where we competed with other schools.
    Our pools were delightfully cool as our summer’s are scorchers! 😀


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