A woman arrived at T2 Aquatics in Naples one day to begin enjoying the gift she purchased herself as a 50th birthday present—learning how to swim. Initially afraid to put her head underwater or let go of the side of a pool, the neophyte is now advancing toward her goal of swimming 25 yards without assistance. While the distance is an afterthought for veteran swimmers, it’s the standard length of an aquatic facility or a community pool such as Naples Swim School, and a common goal for those learning to swim as an adult or returning to the activity after an extended hiatus.
According to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health, 37% of the country’s adults can’t swim the length of a 25-yard pool. Further, the CDC reports 46% of American adults are afraid to go into water over their head, and 70% of all the country’s drowning victims are adults.
The predicament is among reasons for the popularity of the nationwide organization U.S. Masters Swimming, or USMS, including the program at T2 Norris Aquatic Center. The nationwide initiative declares itself “on the front lines to change this statistic. With education, outreach and financial support, USMS is making more adults safer around water.”
Maria Sunyak is team manager of the USMS at T2 Norris Aquatic Center, one of several community locations that offer adult swimming in Southwest Florida. She, her husband and their three adult children are all involved in the program. It caters to lifelong adult swimmers, participants returning to the recreation after years away and members learning to swim.
“We have a master’s team and they are anywhere from 18 to 85,” says Sunyak. “Some are former competitive swimmers and some don’t compete. It’s a wide range of abilities. We have some people who come all of the four days we offer the program, and others come twice a week, just for a little exercise. We now have some of the adults who are in the program to help others who are new—and that’s pretty great. For the experienced swimmers, I just think it’s them going back to their first love. And other adults say, ‘You know, I should swim. It’s good for me.’ And they give it a whirl.”
Swimming’s benefits include reducing stress, increasing serotonin levels and boosting endorphins, and it’s less stressful on the body than other exercises. Neurobiologists also believe swimming has cognitive benefits; it helps develop brain cells.
Adult swimming businesses abound—Swimtastic in Naples and Fort Myers to Sunsational Swim School in Naples to the Greater Naples YMCA, usually offered in conjunction with youth and family classes.
Sunsational Swim School caters to adults in one-on-one lessons, customizing workouts to meet swimmers’ needs and help them achieve goals. The company’s instructors can assist students in a community or backyard pool.
“Whether you’re an adult beginner dipping your toe into the pool for the first time, working to overcome a fear of water, or seeking advanced swim training to complete the 1,500-meter swimming split of a triathlon, we’ll be with you every stroke of the way to get you to your goals,” says the Sunsational website.
Similar to bicycling enthusiasts’ sentiments, swimming advocates like to aver that “It’s never too late to learn how to swim.”
Swimtastic locations detail their adult swimming approach as a combination of overcoming the fear of water for swimming as an exercise and assisting parents in having the life-saving skills of swimming. The two area facilities offer small-group, semi-private and private lessons at varying ability levels.
Open water swimming is also popular in Southwest Florida, with T2 Norris Aquatic Center among several locales offering instruction in the specialty.
“People who are returning to swimming after a long hiatus often comment that they just feel better,” says Sunyak. “Mentally and physically, they feel better. It’s good for your cardiac health and good for respiratory health. The benefits are incredible.”
Arianna Norris, Sunyak’s 29-year-old daughter, is the instructor for the woman who purchased swimming lessons for herself.
The new swimmer is no different than veteran competitive swimmers. Whether improving to swim 25 yards or competing for age-group records or challenging long ocean distances, swimming gives the practitioner a feeling of accomplishment.