We’re on the cusp of National Bike Month, but did you realize that April is Adult Learn to Swim Month? So as we transition from April to May, here is a post from guest-writer Phillip Luebke, addressing the importance of swimming skills for adults.
Phillip Luebke works at MSU-Bozeman as a government contracting advisor for the Montana Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), where he helps Montana companies do business with federal, state and local government agencies. He currently serves as president of the Bozeman Masters Swim Club and is the Top Ten and Records Chair for the Montana Local Masters Swimming Committee (LMSC). He is looking forward to competing in his first USMS National Championship Meet in Indianapolis next month.
Every year the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation formally declares the month of April, “Adult Learn-to-Swim Month.” In many parts of the country, this is the time of year when outdoor pools, lakes, and beaches are opening for spring and summer recreation. It’s a little early for that here in Montana (I’m writing this in the middle of yet another April snowstorm), but it’s never too early to start thinking about summer recreation and water safety.
More than a third of adults in the United States can’t swim the length of a pool, which puts them at risk of being one of the ten people who drown every day in the United States. Summers in Montana are an especially dangerous time. 46% of drowning deaths in Montana occur in June, July and August, and the rate of unintentional drowning deaths in our state is 54% higher than the rate for the U.S.
To help prevent drownings, the Bozeman Masters Swim Club gave free swim lessons to adults during the month of April. They were beginner lessons for adults with little-to-no swimming skills. Some never learned how to swim when they were younger. Others might have had a few lessons as a child, but never achieved a level of competency where they felt comfortable in the water.
You might not find anything strange about a swim club offering swim lessons, but I should point out that it’s not something that is normally offered by a masters swimming club. Masters swimmers (swimmers aged 18+) may need help with their technique or want to build up their strength or endurance, but in general, they already know how to swim. So why are we doing this?
A grant from the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation was the spark that spurred us to offer free adult learn-to-swim (ALTS) lessons last year, but once we saw the impact our lessons were having on the participants in our program, we knew that it was a program that we had to keep going. Learning to swim can be life-changing. The heartfelt gratitude that was expressed by the “graduates” of our program at the end of last year’s sessions is what prompted me to volunteer to be an instructor this year.
As someone who has been swimming since about age seven, I don’t think I ever truly appreciated what it’s like to go through life without knowing how to swim. We have heard some heart-wrenching stories from participants entering our program about what that is like. These are stories I wouldn’t feel right sharing, but this excerpt from the USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Manual paints a pretty vivid picture:
Once a person is convinced that swimming any distance is impossible, a life of avoidance begins. Excuses are made to remain safely on the beach while friends run for a cooling dip. Vacation plans are altered so that swimming is not included. Fearful or nonswimming parents will stay out of the water or instill fear in their kids to keep them safe. Cruises, fishing from a boat, and ferry rides are all accompanied by the concern of, “What happens if we go over?” For anyone who does not know how to swim comfortably, there is a nagging sense of something missed, that the joy others feel while swimming is not available.
That is no way to go through life. Think of all the fun summer activities in Montana that happen in and around bodies of water. Here in Bozeman, we’re doing our small part to eliminate lives full of excuses, avoidance and fear…and the community responded. All three of our sessions filled up just a few weeks after we opened registrations.
I have already seen remarkable improvement from the adults that I have been instructing. Students who struggled with putting their faces in the water on the first day are now taking multiple strokes across the pool and learning to breathe properly so that they can continue to swim without stopping. Recent lessons have included smiles and laughter, along with high-fives and fist-bumps. Six lessons over three weeks is a short period of time to learn anything, but I remain optimistic that most of our students will be able to master the five water safety skills the American Red Cross has identified as critical for “water competency” by the end of this month:
- Step or jump into the water over your head.
- Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
- Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
- Swim 25 yards to the exit.
- Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.
If you don’t know how to swim, and would like to learn, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-600-2771 and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. In addition to the ALTS program in Bozeman, there are at least a couple of USMS-certified ALTS instructors in Kalispell and Missoula, and I know a few folks who give private lessons, but are not USMS-certified.
If you already know how to swim, but would like to improve, I strongly encourage you to check out a U.S. Masters Swimming club near you:
- In Kalispell: KATS Masters
- In Bozeman: Bozeman Masters
- In Polson: Flathead Lake Open Water Swimmers
- Anywhere else in Montana: The Big Sky Montana Masters is a regional club with workout groups in Billings, Missoula, Helena, Whitefish and Hamilton…and possibly others cities.
Bozeman Masters Adult Learn to Swim Lessons