And all went swimmingly ..

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Saturday morning at the Bloomsbury Pool, University College London. Ken Martin, a man in his twenties, is getting reacquainted with the deep end.

The last time Ken was in deep water he was a child. An all-knowing adult had chucked him in, sure it was the best way of making him swim.

The intervening years suggest otherwise. Ken grew up to join the 25 per cent of the adult population who cannot swim and are afraid of water.

Ken is a member of The Aquaphobic Swimming Club, which believes that the only way to get a non-swimmer swimming is through one-to-one tuition. So every non-swimmer joining it gets to work with their own individual instructor.

Right now, Ken is practising the crawl, swimming just a short distance and then back again, closely watched by instructor Nick Woolskin.

'Don't rush your strokes,' calls Nick. 'Do that and you'll tire yourself. Then you think you won't make it, so then you worry. Remember, the ultimate goal is to simply have you floating in the deep end - relaxed.'

Back in the shallow end, Mick Balfour is joined in the pool by his instructor Keith Gould for his 17th lesson. 'My first major breakthrough was deciding to come here at all. I just felt that by now, coming up to 40, swimming is something that I ought to be able to do.

'I was extremely nervous. The first hurdle was just getting used to being in the water. For the first eight lessons I just could not get my feet off the floor of the pool.

'I always used to panic when I got my face under the water and would just grab at the nearest available solid object, which usually turned out to be Keith here.'

Today they are working on breathing. 'As you move forward blow the air out,' Keith reminds Mick. 'This will help you relax.' Face down in the water, Mick launches himself forward, wavers, and regains his feet.

'You found your feet okay, but how many should go down? Two. How many did go down? One,' Keith admonishes.

Mick presses on with his forward glides.

The ASC was formed in 1978 by a swimming teacher, Peter Cooper. Originally trained as a schoolteacher, Peter found his true vocation in sports. He found he had a particular talent for helping children who were nervous of the water. What he did not know was that there were many adults with the same problem.

'I got a telephone call asking me if I did lessons for adults as well. I said no. A week later I got another, and the penny dropped that there was a demand.

'I started taking people in groups of four. That proved difficult because of the wide disparity of age and ability among the students, so I took it down to pairs, and from there to individual lessons.

'I've had people tell me how they couldn't countenance putting their face in the shower. They have nightmares about water, some are sick before they come here.

'But anybody can swim. If you can relax the mind, the body will follow. This isn't something you can get out of a textbook - you have to teach them, you have to know what's going on in the student's mind.

'The criterion of success for us is the student gaining the ability to swim in deep water with confidence. I reckon on 75 per cent of members reaching that stage. I consider that to be a very high success rate considering some of the psychological problems involved.'

John Riney, a 39-year-old construction worker, knows about psychological problems. He's been coming to the ASC since January. 'I come from the west coast of Ireland, down by the sea, and never learned how to swim.

'Partially my problem was to do with a fear of water, but as well as that, I was brought up in a fishing family, and very few members of a fishing family can actually swim. It used to be considered bad luck for a fisherman to be able to swim.'

Peter Cooper goes off to introduce a new student, Mary, from Windsor, to instructor Alan Reed.

Mary stands in the shallow end, holding on to a float. Alan firmly grasps the other end. She tentatively eases forward and moves around in a circle, clutching the float.

After a few circles more, Alan relaxes his grip until only his fingers rest on the tip.

Mary is suddenly floating solo. It's a start.

A term with the ASC consists of 11 30-minute lessons with a personal instructor and costs pounds 198. The ASC also has the 'Dolphin Club' which offers similar tuition for children.

Further details from Peter

Cooper on 081-349 1844.

(Photograph omitted)

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