“I nearly drowned when I was a child. . .”
“It was during a family day out at the beach with my parents, my little sister and my friend.
“My parents were fishing on the sands and we were jumping off a pipe into the sea. We moved to the other side of the pipe and jumped into some really deep water. The three of us went right under and nearly drowned.
“My sister floated out to sea – I remember my father swimming out to get her. When he placed her on the beach, he thought that we had lost her, but he still came after me and my friend and saved us. It was absolutely terrifying, and it’s had an effect on me for the last sixty-odd years.
“After that incident my father taught us all to swim, but I was always too afraid to ever put my face in the water.
“I also have a memory of being in Llanelli pool and fainting. And so, since childhood I always thought that if my head went under the water I would faint, and I just could never bring myself to do it. I couldn’t even hold my breath.
“I always loved being in the water though and I made sure all my children could swim. I enjoyed swimming and bodyboarding with them down the Gower every summer, but they knew I wouldn’t get my face in the water or go where I couldn’t touch the bottom.
“Then when I was fifty, I thought it was time for me to learn properly.
“My teacher did everything he possibly could to help me put my face in the water, but even he couldn’t help me: I was sure I would faint if my face went under.
“Even though I could swim I still could not go out of my depth. The first time I swam in the deep end was just a couple of years ago, in Llanelli swimming pool. I was so scared! Despite this triumph, I was still certain that I couldn’t put my face in the water.
“After a year or so of swimming regularly in Llanelli pool and getting comfortable with being in the deep end my confidence really grew, though I was still afraid to get my face wet.
“I’m not afraid at all now!
“I recently met a kind stranger in the swimming pool called Bernard, and he finally succeeded in teaching me to get my face under the water. He was so kind – he came over to me and said, ‘Spend a little time in the baby pool with me. I’m not a teacher but I’ve helped a lot of people to swim and I think I can help you.’
“I spent about fifteen minutes with Bernard, listening to him explain and demonstrate breathing. I wasn’t convinced I could do it and I thought I was going to be Bernard’s first failure. But, when I went back in the big pool he said, ‘Don’t give up – keep practicing.’ So, I carried on trying to put my face in the water, around the edge of the pool.
“I did it more for Bernard than I did for myself, because he was so lovely. But he’d explained it all in a way that I suddenly understood, and I realised I wasn’t going to faint – he’d described so simply how to breathe: I didn’t have to hold my breath and it finally made sense to me. So, I kept trying and trying until I swam just a few metres with my face in the water. I screamed, ‘I did it, I did it, did you see me?!’ It was amazing!
“Eventually I did a length and then one day I swam a mile! With my face in the water – proper swimming! It’s made such a difference and now I just love it.
“I didn’t tell my family any of this at the time.
“The children had grown up knowing quite well that they weren’t to splash me in the water because I didn’t want water up my nose and all that.
“Then we were in Portugal and I asked Dick, my husband, to come out to the pool. I didn’t tell him anything, I just got in the pool and I swam a length with my face in the water. He was amazed. He took a video of me swimming and sent it to my daughter Nicola, who was absolutely over the moon.
“I know it sounds silly, like I’m exaggerating, but I honestly am over the moon that I can put my head in the water, because I’d convinced myself all these years that I couldn’t do it.
“Another great thing is that my daughter used the video of me swimming in her work with young people. She used it as an inspirational video for the youngsters who thought they couldn’t do something, telling them, ‘See this woman? For 65 years she said she couldn’t put her head in the water – she’d convinced herself she couldn’t do it but look at her now!’
“And that is all because of Bernard. You might think I’m a little bit nuts, but he’s my hero. The man is amazing.