The competition pool at Washington Park Natatorium in West End is less than seven feet deep, but for Tika Allen, it might as well be an abyss. Like almost all of her childhood friends, the 29-year-old nurse never learned to swim, and entering water where her feet can’t touch the bottom is still a panicky experience.
A planned vacation to the Dominican Republic motivated Allen to sign up for beginner lessons last August through All-Star Swim Academy of Atlanta, one of several swimming schools that teach adults across the metro area. After a few weeks of 45-minute private sessions, Allen had learned to float and was overcoming her fears.
Since opening three years ago, the academy has taught more than 1,000 metro Atlanta adults to swim. Owner Leslie Pierce says adult beginners are most commonly black women, in addition to clients from developing countries where pool access was uncommon. Typically, her students are between the ages of 30 and 45, though one was a 68-year-old with triathlon ambitions. Most are motivated by safety concerns, upcoming beach trips, or the need to find soft-impact exercises as activities such as running become too strenuous.
Why should I learn?
A 2014 American Red Cross survey found that 44 percent of Americans lacked basic water safety skills. Children in households with parents who can’t swim stand only a 13 percent chance of learning.
How long will it take?
The rate of progress depends largely on your comfort level in the water, says Pierce. (Are you too scared to dip in a toe? Or can you tread water, but just can’t get across the length of the pool?) She says students can take as little as three weeks or as long as six months to become proficient.
Should I try group or private lessons?
If you have a serious water phobia, you’ll probably learn better in private lessons, which can be customized. Less nervous swimmers may do better in group classes, which offer a sense of camaraderie and motivation from peers.
Where to learn:
- Highland Athletic Club, 261 Parkway Drive, swimwithapurpose.com
- All-Star Swim Academy of Atlanta, Washington Park Natatorium, 101 Ollie Street, allstarswimmers.net
- Adamsville Natatorium, 3201 M. L.K. Jr. Drive, 404-505-3189
- Rosel Fann Natatorium, 365 Cleveland Avenue, 404-624-0774
- YMCA of Metro Atlanta, ymcaatlanta.org/locations
- SwimAtlanta, offers lessons across the northern suburbs and at Georgia Tech, swimatlanta.com
- Stone Mountain Community Center, 5370 Stone Mountain Freeway, Stone Mountain, stonemountaincc.org
This article originally appeared in our January 2017 issue.