Feature Article - January 2011
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Taking the Plunge

Saving Facilities and Lives Through Smarter Aquatic Programming

By Kelli Anderson

An Untapped Audience

In 1978, Melon Dash realized that the whole premise of learning to swim was backwards. Teaching her students with traditional methods in her Red Cross swimming class, Dash saw firsthand that simply learning strokes was not enough to overcome her student's fear of the water. As long as fear remained part of their experience, students could not feel comfortable enough to enjoy water recreation and, most importantly, would still remain at risk for drowning.

"The crazy thing is you can't learn strokes until you learn how to swim—it's the definition of swim that's not correct," Dash explained. "We think of freestyle as the way to learn, but what swimming really is, is being able to rely on yourself in deep water for safety, and that has nothing to do with strokes or even treading water. They need to know how water works, that it holds them up, and how to prevent panic."

Dash's learn-to-swim method, explained in more detail on her Web site, www.conquerfear.com, teaches that fear is overcome when students learn how to become reliable in deep water. In only two or three classes, students find that they are free from fear, can safely maintain themselves in deep water and are ready, if they choose, to progress to swim strokes.

When Olympic gold medalist swimmer Jim Montgomery heard Dash speak at a U.S. Swim School Association convention, he knew he'd found a solution to a problem he repeatedly encountered at his swim school. "We had adults saying they could swim in our masters group but they'd never been comfortable in the water; they didn't have fun and water wasn't appealing. We get a lot of triathletes, too, who were taught how to swim but were never comfortable in the water." Montgomery said. "So, they go to a fear of water class before they learn strokes. It's a step-by-step process to hand them off all the way to master swimming."

What Montgomery found even more amazing, once he began the fear of water class, was that once people graduated from the program, they were able to learn strokes even faster since they were more comfortable exploring water skills and no longer felt pressured or awkward in that setting.

With drowning cited as the second highest cause of death in U.S. children, dozens of organizations, in addition to Dash's Miracle Swimming Institute, have joined the fight to eliminate drowning. Methods understandably differ depending on geography, demographics and culture, but all seek to make drowning a thing of the past.

For more information, contact www.usaswimming.org or www.miracleswimming.com.