For Debbie Bell, being pushed into the deep-end of an outdoor pool at the age of nine led to a 30-year fear of water – and a memory that, to this day, sends shivers down the spine.
Family finances meant that, as a teenager, she was unable to continue with lessons and although Debbie tried to acquire skills in the water, the sense of panic never really left her.
“Although I continued to develop my swimming skills on and off throughout my life, the fear of deep waters never left me,” explains Debbie.
“So much so that when knowing I was in the deep end of a pool (I never chanced swimming in open seas) I started to panic and swim frantically, consequently causing myself more physical damage than physical fitness.”
Fast-forward to June this year and Debbie, prompted by a frustration at not being able to enjoy holidays with her teenage sons, decided it was time to overcome decades of fear and sign-up for swimming lessons at Sevenoaks Leisure Centre.
“I decided it really was time to try and address this. My boys have had lessons since they were little – and one of them took swimming life guard for his GCSE – and it just dawned on me that I was missing out on family fun as well as obtaining a life skill we should all acquire and, unlike me, preferably when we’re young,” adds Debbie.
Her coach, Chris Coggin, says of his student: “It’s significantly harder to learn to swim as an adult as there is fear of failure and often a lack of self-assurance that comes naturally to many of us when we’re young. Debbie has done remarkably well in just a few lessons, developing skills and really building her confidence. She should be very proud of herself.”
Debbie adds: “I initially joined a very small group of just three other adults, all of different levels and abilities. It was only during the second package of lessons I’d purchase that I had the light bulb moment.
“Chris made me realise I can float and ‘tread water for longer than anyone needs to’ (his words) and following that he made me swim to the deep end, stop in the middle, tread water and then repeat the routine.
“He really made me notice and think about what I was already doing, like floating, swimming and treading water. But because of my fear I was subconsciously ignoring such skills and only focussing on the fear. From then on I went on to improving my techniques and even learning to dive, something I always envied about my boys swimming in lakes and sea.
“I have to say a huge ‘thanks’ to Chris for believing in me and for all the encouragement and support. This achievement has given me a boost of confidence, not just in water but in other areas of my life.”
Chris, who has represented Sevenoaks Swimming Club, recently graduated in economics from Oxford Brookes University and has just started studying for his masters, is passionate about helping people of all ages acquiring confidence and safety skills in and around water.
“Many adults have never learnt to swim properly either because they never had the proper opportunity or, as in Debbie’s case, they had a bad experience as a child,” says Chris.
“Swimming isn’t just a great way of keeping fit, it’s an invaluable life skill – especially when you consider 400 people die every year from drowning as a result of an accident in or around water.”
For details of swimming lessons go to sencio.org.uk