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Swimming is more than treading water

Swimmers, instructors stress the importance of lessons

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POSTED: July 7, 2014 10:13 a.m.
Rayfield Gilyard/

A young swimmer practices jumping off a diving board at the Liberty County Recreation Department pool in Hinesville under the supervision of his instructor.

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Tom Dunlap started swimming at age 10 and still asserts — 70 years later — that the sport is good for the body and mind. His friend, Gary Burch, started swimming about two years ago and said it has improved his overall health. Both men regularly take to the pool at the Liberty County YMCA, and while they do it to stay in shape and have fun, they want others to know that the recreational activity can be deadly for those who don’t know how to swim. “Most of the kids who drown probably thought they could swim,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap swam in high school and in college and has done extensive research on the benefits of swimming as it relates to the overall improvement of brain function, lung capacity and general health.
He said the three recent drownings in Long County, two of which happened in borrow pits and one of which occurred in a local pond, tugged at his heart.
Burch, a retiree who started taking swim lessons at the YMCA two years ago, said there is much more to swimming than splashing around in a pool or the ocean. Without proper training, anyone — regardless of age — could be pulled down by a rip current or become fatigued or panicked and drown.
“Drowning could be prevented by learning how to swim,” he said, adding that the first lesson he was given was on how to breathe properly.
“We held our head under water and we did our A, B, Cs while blowing out bubbles,” Burch said.
He said he learned how to exhale air while reserving enough to keep his head in the water without having to hold his breath, which can lead to hypoxia.
“When you hold your breath too long, you become hypoxic and you begin flailing and tiring, and the worst thing — drowning,” he said. “It took me a while to get the breathing down and then the coordination with the arms … the instructor taught me how to use my arms and not just use my shoulders, and then the kicking. I never knew all the coordination that was involved in swimming.”
Dunlap said everyone could benefit from swim lessons, “Because swimming does not come naturally to us. If you look at the physiology behind it, human beings are not constructed for swimming. The center of gravity is too low because we are made to walk,” he said. “As a result of that, when we get into the water and into a prone position, that is not a natural position.”
Dunlap cited dogs as an example. Dogs walk on all fours and always are in a prone position. The same motion a dog uses to walk on land is the one it uses in the water. Because they are prone, the motion propels the animal forward while letting it keep its head above water.
“We use a lot more energy trying to stay in a prone position and trying to stay afloat while moving forward. A kid may be able to tread water for 25 yards, but they have to keep their head up in order to breathe. It is almost impossible to learn that without lessons,” Dunlap said. “An instructor can teach you how to float and how to trust the water, all normally counter intuitive. To swim efficiently, you have to get your body in a prone position, and that requires learning to breathe properly because your head stays down. As soon as you pick your head up, your feet are going to come down.  So you need to keep your head down and learn how to breathe properly.”
YMCA swim instructor Donna Hooe has been a certified swim coach since 2009.
Dunlap said that despite swimming for seven decades, he still learns new things from Hooe and is confident that the instructions provided at the YMCA and other local facilities will save lives.
Hooe agrees.
“It is not enough to just know how to swim … (it’s crucial) to be able to save yourself if you unexpectedly fell into a body of water or to be able to be strong enough to save someone else,” she said.
Dunlap said the ironic thing is for a brief period in every human’s life, we are all good swimmers by instinct.
“Infants can naturally swim and hold their breaths under water,” he said. “Around 8 or 9 months old they lose that capacity … because they start walking and learn to stand erect.”
Dunlap said a good time for swim lessons is shortly after a child starts walking.
The YMCA has swim lessons scheduled for July 8-31 and has sessions available in the mornings and evenings.
Preschool and youth sessions are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Morning sessions for the preschoolers are from 10-10:45 a.m. and afternoon sessions are from 4-4:45 p.m.
Youth morning sessions are from 11-11:45 a.m. and the afternoon class is from 5-5:45 p.m.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is a parent/child class from 5-5:30 p.m. and also an adult swim class from 6-6:30 p.m.
YMCA members pay $40 for the five-week course while non-members pay $50.
Burch and Dunlap said their experience at the YMCA has been great, and both agree the instructors there are top-notch professionals.
Burch added that he is impressed with the training required of lifeguards, and he respects the jobs they do in protecting people at the pool.
Whether people take swim lessons at the local YMCA or elsewhere, Burch and Dunlap want to send a clear message that obtaining professional instruction is worth the time, effort and cost.
“Move beyond the recreational aspects of just splashing around and jumping off the diving board. Get some instruction because swimming can be a lot more, and not just in terms of saving your life. It is great for your body and great for your brain, too,” Dunlap said.
The Liberty County Recreation Department also offers swim lessons at the Stafford Pavilion pool and at the new Liberty County Community Complex pool in Midway. Lessons are two weeks in duration and cost $25. Morning and evening sessions are available.
For information on the YMCA swim program, call 368-9622.
For information regarding LCRD swim lessons, call 876-5359.


 

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