Adult swimmers

Cheers rang out from the deep end of Blake’s swimming pool one spring Saturday afternoon. At only her second lesson, a new swimmer had just swum the entire length of the pool, and her instructors didn’t hold back their enthusiasm. “Watch, next year you’ll be back here volunteering,” one of the teaching assistants told her. The volunteer knew from experience: she, too, had been a beginning swimmer just a year ago and was now helping others to be safer in and around water.

The scene played out exactly how Tom Moore Pʼ25 had envisioned when he suggested Blake host swimming lessons for adults in the school community with volunteer support from fellow community members and assistance from Minnesota Masters Swimming. The Blake Adult-Learn-To-Swim Program, which offers four, 30-minute, free lessons to those 18 years or older, launched in spring 2022 and will begin its third session in October. The program’s goal is for every member of the Blake community—faculty, staff, students and their family members, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—to be comfortable and safer in the water.  

In this Q&A, Moore shares the inspiration for starting Adult Learn-to-Swim at Blake, what he would tell those who are hesitant to sign up and the rewards and challenges that have come with establishing the program.  

Q: What was the inspiration/motivation behind bringing adult swimming lessons to the Blake community?
A: There is a problem (and we can solve it!)—there are adults who don’t know how to swim and/or are afraid of the water, and that means their kids are less likely to learn to swim. When family members don’t know how to swim, there is a much higher risk of injury or death. Blake has a strong tradition of service, and there are new families enrolling every year, so this was an opportunity to build a self-sustaining program, where we teach swim lessons to family members and friends of participants, then they become volunteers to teach swim lessons to those in need throughout the Twin Cities. There is a socio-economic and racial disparity in access to pools and swim lessons, and we can help address that.

Q: What would you tell someone who is hesitant to take swimming lessons as an adult?
A: In Minnesota, especially, we are often around water, and it is important that everyone be able to participate in a variety of activities and stay safe while doing so. As adults, it can be intimidating to go out in public in a swimsuit, and the idea of learning to swim can be scary. But human beings are built to swim, and it is a skill everyone can learn. Once you learn how to put your face in the water and breathe properly and learn to float, you quickly lose any self-consciousness and can focus on learning the skills and the joy of being in the water. We want everyone to participate in the program—either as a student or a volunteer!

Q: What’s the range of swimming experience for those taking lessons?
A: We’ve had every level of participant—from “never ever swam” and “fear of the water because of trauma as a child” to “haven’t swam in over 20 years” to “I swim occasionally” and even “I do lap swimming but want to improve my strokes.”

Q: What has been the most rewarding part(s) of bringing this program to Blake? 
A: It is very rewarding to see how happy and proud the participants are, but my real joy comes from seeing how powerfully the program affects the volunteers and how rewarding it is for them to share their knowledge and skills while helping members of the community. One of our instructors grew up in Pakistan, which is a land-locked country, and he didn’t see a pool until he was in the U.S. as an adult. He is grateful that our program gives him an opportunity to share his love of swimming with others who also didn’t start learning until adulthood.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges or surprises since launching the program?
A: Surprisingly, our biggest challenge is getting enough participants for each session. That is partly a scheduling issue and partly an intimidation issue—it’s intimidating to admit you need swim lessons as an adult, and it can be intimidating to show up at the pool. Once we book the pool and schedule the volunteers, we are ready to teach quite a few participants per session, and we don’t always get as many sign-ups as we want, and we also get folks who sign up but then aren’t able to show up to their lesson.

Q: How do you see the program evolving?
A: A not-so-secret goal of this program is to teach every member of the Blake community how to swim. This is not just so they know how to swim, but also so they can be of service by volunteering and going out to the larger Twin Cities community and other Minnesota communities to help bring access to swim lessons to all Minnesotans, especially those who have not traditionally had access to swimming pools. We are working on expanding our program to include a “teens teaching teens” service component, modeled after a successful program in New York. In addition, we have already held our first single-gender lessons, for women from the Afghan community in the Twin Cities and taught by women volunteers. We want to expand offerings and access (both swim lesson opportunities and open swim opportunities) for a variety of affinity groups, communities of color and refugee communities in the Twin Cities, such as the Somali and Hmong community.

For more information and to register for upcoming Blake Adult-Learn-to-Swim sessions, click here. To volunteer for the program, click here.