Learning to swim

The pool echoes with excitement as soon as families hustle in for American Red Cross morning lessons. It is a busy place. There are three groups each morning and just as one session finishs up and a new one rushes in and huddles in a line on the bench at the shallow end of the pool.

“I am going to kneel down to look at your faces so I can see everyone in the eye. I want to talk to you and everyone needs to hear clearly,” Bridget Kuhns coaxes an attentive array of youth participants in their safety day for a summer swim lesson.  

“We had an issue just yesterday in our locker room where a girl slipped and bumped her head. You always have to watch out for each other. Be safe. If you see something wrong tell someone as soon as you can.  Safety is key. If someone is yelling for help in the water and the water is too cold; don’t get in. Find help.”  

Cold water awareness is obviously important here and Kuhns has a set of memorable notes scrawled on the white board: “HELP = Heat Escape Lessening Position,” “Look, throw but don’t go!”

Kuhns is straightforward and kids, all ages and skill levels, listen carefully. Kuhns knows what she is talking about and children, parents, other coaches are on call for anything she requests. If her whistle blows or hands clap for attention, compliance is instant. 

Parents appreciate how lucky Homer is to have this extraordinary pool time.  Summer swim season, usually four two-week sessions, is impressive. Kuhns is queen of the pool and her unending energy clearly inspires everyone involved.

Other than Kuhns there are eight coaches: Claire Hrenchir, Elysha Chapple, Angela Cardoza, Lydia Arndt, Sherry Pederson, Sergius Harman, Nicholas Lincoln and Zane Wilkenson.

All instructors display skill and dedication. There is critical physical attention all around. Instructors hold hands, arms, and backs.  With the advanced group, they stand on the deck and demonstrate the best way to move arms, turn necks.  

On one busy day Kuhns spends full time in the water with an upper level group. “We are one big swim team. We are teaming up.  It’s a big group today.  OK, team we’re going to start on our backs.  We need to have some fast feet. Everyone ready? Go!”

Next, the group flips over to a forward stroke and Kuhns adjusts her instructions, “I want one arm to be a bubble arm and one to be a breath arm. Got it? Bubble arm, breath arm, bubble arm, breath arm.” Kuhns turns to one girl, “OK. Here we go. I’ve got you.” 

She looks the student in the eye, “use your breath and I want to see those arms long.  We don’t want tiny dinosaur arms.  Make them long.”

Many parents stay in the bleachers to watch the lessons. “Mom, I’m going to try the diving board,” one little guy exclaims as he heads toward the deep end.

His mother gives him two thumbs up and remarks, “Well, that’s really surprising.  This is his first time doing that. You know, they really trust their instructors!” 

Coaches also encourage swim time to be fun with smiles, splashes, bubbles, hoops and rings to play with. “You can’t just push the technical skills early on. It’ll be too much for them. You have to start them out right,” Kuhns explains.  “We also want them to learn not to be afraid of the water.  If someone doesn’t want to get off the tot dock or doesn’t want to paddle without a noodle, he doesn’t have to.  Each kid needs to go at his own pace.” 

While the older group plunges off the diving board, a group of youngsters from the tot dock get their noodle belts and Chapple herds them on a parade around the shallow end, “Stay together, guys. Make sure you can see your friends. Here we go,” she says.

The 45-minute class ends. Kuhns blows her whistle and kids head to warm showers and a locker room full of parents and towels.