THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY FEATURED ON WATERFI.COM
My Dad’s relationship with the water started out… well, traumatic! As a kid, all of his friends swam. So when three of his Boy Scout buddies decided to swim across Stony Brook in Upstate New York, he gave it a try. One of the young men swam across like a fish. But when my Dad began to swim after him, he went under.
“A Scout leader saved me. I was 14 years old! I had a fear of going in over my head after that!”
But Dad overcame that fear by learning how to swim from the most unlikely teacher. He learned to swim from his Mom’s chain smoking friend Mrs. Marianetti, while helping her build a pool one summer!
“I sat there at the edge of the pool. Betty was relaxing, having a cigarette. Then she gets in and swims like it’s nothing! Here’s this smoker, swimming peacefully, still wearing her sunglasses and a floppy hat! She’s 45. I’m 18!”
Well, Dad had an epiphany that day. If he wanted to learn how to swim, he would have to swim slow and gracefully. So that summer, he just focused on getting his strokes down from 25… to almost gliding, like Betty!
“I doubled my distance by doing that.” And he went from being an 18 year old who could barely swim two lengths of a pool, to swimming a mile, all in the same summer!
With his fear of swimming behind him, Dad turned his attention to becoming a strong swimmer, something he reminds me we can always work on! Because when you’re a strong swimmer, you can enjoy any water activity without being afraid. Like boating, which might be Dad’s favorite! That is why it was so important to Dad that my brother and sister and I be strong swimmers as well.
“I wanted you kids to NOT have the horrible experience I had. That was my goal in life… To prevent you guys from the pain I went through”.
So as the oldest, I was enrolled in a Waterbabyclass before I could walk. And at about 7 months old, I passed the class like a regular mermaid, automatically holding my breath as only a baby can. Unfortunately, life got busy, and the next time Dad had the chance to take me back to a pool, I was two. There in Aunt Tessie’s pool, Dad passed me through the water like he had done so many times in Waterbabies. He didn’t realize that I’d lost the instinct to hold my breath until I panicked. And it took three years for little Sara to recover!
Three years of playing with Dad at Hamlin Beach, and in the Letchworth State Park pool with family and friends, and going down the water slide at Aunt Tessie’s… with floaties of course! Because after that initial scary experience “You were a big baby, so I just made it fun again until you weren’t afraid,” Dad explains.
“Then I put you back in swim lessons with someone else, but kept doing the fun stuff with you. And eventually you weren’t afraid of water, and you swam at summer camp, and on the swim team!” He says with pride.
So this Waterbaby became a strong swimmer after all. And I wasn’t the only one! Once my brother Aaron gained confidence in the water from the swim lessons Dad insisted we take, he wasn’t afraid of the water either.
Dad encouraged us to become strong enough swimmers that we’d excel on the swim tests that were given at the beginning of Summer camp every year, and be able to swim in the deep end!
The youngest, my sister Becky agrees that this was better than being “Sectored off to the kiddie section when my peers could swim in the deep end. That was big motivation to become a better swimmer!”
Much like my Father, we couldn’t resist following our friends into the water. But Dad made sure we never had to be saved by a Scout leader. Years of lessons made us strong enough to jump in over our heads. And the hours Dad spent playing in the water with Aaron, Becky and I made swimming more than a skill we excelled at. It made us love the water!
For Becky, summer day trips to Letchworth really solidified her love of the water. It’s true that by creating aqua memories, our Father instilled in us this lifelong love of water… especially the ocean! One of my most precious memories is when my husband, parents and I swam with manta rays at night while staying in Kona, HI!
For Aaron it was body boarding in Myrtle Beach with our Dad. (My brother is also a huge fan of tubing when given the chance)! And all of these aqua adventures wouldn’t be possible without our confidence in the water.
My Dad’s tips for teaching kids to not just swim safely and strongly, but to love the water are simple:
“It’s got to be fun, and there can’t be any pressure. Maybe have someone else give them lessons. None of this ‘You’re going to be on the swim team when you grow up!’ Just be relaxed. Just get in the water with them and play games!”
To learn to swim at 18 is pretty amazing! And proof that it’s never too late for anyone to take up swimming. My Father overcame his fear of the water, and helped me to do the same. And to watch him swim for all these years has shaped my view of swimming as a lifelong pursuit.
Dad has never outgrown swimming, so neither did any of us. To this day, we seek out adventures in the water. Becky crossed surfing off her bucket list a few years ago when she took lessons at Wrightsville Beach!
I have braved the chaotic 2.4 mile swim of Ironman Lake Placid… three times! And my cliff-jumping brother Aaron just invested in some snorkel gear!
Dad taught us the value of lessons and practicing to become strong swimmers, while making a lifetime of fun memories in summer pools and ocean waves! By teaching me to swim, my Dad taught me to find a balance of strength and fun in the water… and in life!
This post is dedicated to my amazing Dad, Ernie Francione! Thank you Dad for the gift of this lifelong love of water!