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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Can’t swim? Learn how to at the Voorheesville pool

By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– Swimming is a necessary life skill because 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. That doesn’t even account for all the manmade pools in the world.

Voorheesville’s high hchool has been providing learn-to-swim classes in its pool for the last 12 years. Barb McKenna, Vaclav Sotola, and all the swim instructors have seen everyone from infants to grandparents come in for lessons.

“There are no restrictions on age here,” said Sotola, who is the head coach of the boys’ Guilderville swim team in the winter. “It’s never too late to learn. People need to know how to swim because there’s so much water around.”

The second of three summer sessions ends Friday. The third and final two-week session starts next Monday and ends Aug. 6. The swim lessons pick up again next fall on Saturdays for eight or nine weeks at a time.

“It’s important for kids to learn while they’re young,” said McKenna on Monday. “A fifth-grade girl and third-grade boy came in this summer and were petrified of the water, but we had them swimming in five days.”

McKenna fell off a dock when she was 4 years old and her father had to jump in and save her. She learned how to swim at age 6 and competed on a synchronized swimming team in college at Central Connecticut State.

“I don’t know why some people are scared of water,” McKenna said. “Maybe they had a bad experience like me.”

The swim course teaches five levels: water exploration, primary skills, stroke readiness, stroke development, and stroke refinement. After completing Level 5, swimmers can enter the pre-competitive club by being able to swim 25 yards unassisted.

“We hope that they join the pre-competitive so I can work with them,” said Sotola. “Some people think that Level 5 is the end, but there’s so much more to learn.”

Dillon Stevens, a 6-year-old from Albany, is a Level 3 swimmer and is learning how to dive. “It feels good to be in the water,” he said after his lesson on Monday. “I wasn’t scared to dive because I always dive in my cousin’s pool.”

McKenna told The Enterprise that teachers of levels 1 and 2 always end the lesson with a fun game. “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” she said. “If Mr. Fox says five then you swim five strokes.”

Swim instructor Kelsey Saba is a junior at Voorheesville and did the Learn-to-Swim program here when she was 4 years old. “Putting their heads under water is the biggest fear,” she said. “Kids think that the pool is an ocean or a lake with fish that can bite them. I tell them that it’s a bathtub.”

Saba told The Enterprise that kids also have trouble with jumping in and swimming alone. “I’ll hold both their hands and, after that, I’ll let go of one hand,” she said. “Eventually, they get more comfortable and I can let go. I just tell them to keep trying.”

Swimming is a lifetime skill. It’s better to learn early.

“It has to do with safety,” said McKenna. “Think of all the vacations you’ll go on. There’s water everywhere and you don’t want to be the one that can’t swim.”

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