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Learn to Swim

How hard is it? Our Raymond Hawkes goes on special assignment.

HENRICO COUNTY, Va (WTVR)- Every summer we report on accidental drownings in area swimming pools, rivers and beaches. Many cases involve adults who never learned to swim and that left us wondering, just how hard is it – to learn to swim?

CBS 6’s Raymond Hawkes volunteered to give it a try, last month.

“Good, good.”

It’s hard to believe by looking at the video because I look pretty comfortable in the pool. But four lessons ago – I was part of that statistic.

The one that says 60% of African-American children – can’t swim and they grow up to be adults, that can’t swim.

I worked to overcome a lifelong fear over five hot days in July – at Richmond’s Raintree Athletic Club.

“Hey Raymond – I’m Jason. Nice to meet you.”

“Hey Jason – how are you?”

This is the day I met Jason Blake, a swim coach and personal trainer at Raintree.

On day one, I share my story with him.

“I guess I need to start fresh, ‘cause I really don’t know too much. When I was younger probably about five or six, went on vacation, slipped in a pool in the deep end and that’s where the fear set in. And then about six years ago, when I tried to get back in the pool, that’s when my God brother drowned in the James River.”

And my fear grows. This July three men have become drowning victims. And the Centers for Disease Control  found that men are more likely to die by accidental drowning than women.

I’m 25 and I never had swim lessons as a kid. But there are kids all around us on this day. They’re watching and so are the cameras.

“If I get in the pool now, gonna panic, lifeguards will be in here jumping!”

But somehow, I do get in and I have a look on my face, because the water is cold. After some instruction, I reach my first goal.

“All right on the count of three… 1,2,3,” said Jason, as I put my face in the water and held my breath. “Good! Blow out, good feel okay?”

Jason explains what’s next, “We’re gonna come out here, and go underwater without holding on to anything. If there’s any issue of being uncomfortable just put your feet down.”

Simple enough – I think – then Jason tells me what this float is called.

“I didn’t make it up,” he laughs.

“Dead man’s float? Makes me feel comfortable now,” I respond nervously.

Scary name, but I do get the dead man’s float and before the hour is up – I’m using a kick board and swimming down the lap lane. I was slowly getting out of the “fear” mindset.

Jason gives me a pep-talk, “The more relaxed you feel and the more comfortable you get, it will become second nature.”

“This is huge,” I confide. “It’s something that I want to do.”

There’s also something else – I want to do.

“Maybe the little diving board. Maybe not – the big one,” I suggest.

On day two – I’m alone. Just me and my camera. My muscles are sore but I’m more confident.

“I’m pretty sure today’s going to be even better than yesterday since I was able to push myself to do so much and push myself to another level.”

By the end of my second day – Jason becomes my photographer and here are the results.

“On the count of three, stay relaxed. Nice tight streamline, stay on top of the water. Ready 1, 2, 3, go. Good that’s the best one yet.”

And the lessons keep improving.

“Day four Raymond’s making great progress. So I think today we’re just gonna continue on that progress,” Jason tells my camera. “He’s doing well with the kick and floating and staying on top of the water and we’re adding arms in and we’re really gonna focus on the breathing today. That’s the biggest part of what’s going on right now. Aside from the first day this is probably the best day that we’ve had. And it’s day four so he’s done a tremendous job.”

On day five the CBS 6 cameras are back. They capture my improved form and new achievement: the back-float. But there’s still one more step to go.

“As soon as your legs hit the water, kick. Three strokes to the ladder,” instructs Jason.

I jump off the low-dive. It’s all over. Jason recaps our lessons.

“From a total fear of even getting the water to jumping off a low board into 11 feet of water and swimming to the sides. It’s just tremendous strides!”

And here’s his advice for anyone like me: “I think anyone at any age should learn how to swim. It’s just a survival thing,” says Jason.

In setting up this story we had a hard time finding adult swim programs. Many were dropped this summer due to budget cuts. So a big thank you to Jason Blake and Raintree Swim and Racquet Club for hosting Raymond and camera crew.

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