Last week my daughter swam without armbands for the first time properly. First a width was completed, then two widths and finally she swam a length. Any parent reading this will know that this is right up there with our children’s first steps and the first time they ride a bike on their own. It really is a wonderful feeling for everyone concerned and it was a very special experience.
I have always felt that it is crucial that we give our children the opportunity to learn to swim at school. Of all the myriad experiences that they will receive as they journey through the years of their formal education (and I use this phrase advisedly, because i do not believe that “informal” education is ever completed!), swimming is one of the few skills that they will learn that could one day save their lives or enable them to save the lives of others. Quite apart from this, the water can provide an enormous amount of excitement and pleasure.

When I was at school I hated swimming and did everything I could to get out of the class swimming lessons. The amount of times my earplugs were conveniently “forgotten” were too numerous to recount. Looking back I ask myself what I was thinking of, because when I went to study for my degree, after major surgery on my spine and several sclerosing injections into other discs thereafter, swimming became a crucial way for me to keep fit and to keep relatively flexible without pounding the roads and damaging my back further through the shock waves that are sent through your feet to your spine every time you bring them down on such unyielding surfaces as roads and pavements.

A few years later I discovered the wonders of scuba diving and this really did open up a whole new world to me. I have been lucky enough to dive all over the world, penetrating wrecks of various ages, drift diving along some of the most spectacular reefs that you could imagine in places like the Maldives and the Red Sea and cave diving in Mexico, to say nothing of diving with sharks, dolphins and rays. For someone with a long-standing back problem, diving is almost the perfect sport as once you’re in the water you are weightless and consequently the pressure on your back is negligible.

I no longer dive as often as I used to, but last summer, for the first time in my life I had a go at open water swimming in the lakes and reservoirs of Staffordshire. This offers a wonderful sense of freedom that you don’t get when you are swimming in a pool (although I still do this as well, because the water does start to get a wee bit chilly in the lakes at this time of year!). it was tremendous fun and I can’t wait to get back into the lake next spring.

So being in and under the water has provided me with enormous pleasure for all of my adult life. You certainly need to respect the water and assess whether it is safe to swim or to dive, but the benefits are manifold and I only hope that my daughter, and her two brothers (who both love diving down to the bottom of any pool they are in to collect whatever they find down there) have as much pleasure from the water as I have. I’m also looking forward to learning to surf with them as they get a bit older as this is something that I’ve not yet learned to do.

Speaking of respecting the water, we have a speaker next term talking to both children and adults on open water safety. This will take place on Thursday 15th March and you are very welcome to attend!