A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“The number of people who don’t know how to swim is astounding. Usually in a class of five or six adults, there’s one or two who will be white-knuckled, with their hands on the wall. Maybe they had a near-drowning experience, or they watched Jaws when they were kids.”

“We break things down into very, very small chunks, so that people can get quick wins. If I have a very scared person, we’ll start with having them hold on to the wall and put their face in the water.

“I had one woman who was so freaked out about being in this 15-by-15-foot, three-foot-deep tub of water that we had to get out and towel off. I got a salad bowl out of the back room and filled it with nice warm water, and we just practiced putting our face in the salad bowl for 15 minutes. She’d blow bubbles for half a second and then rip her face out of the water. I think she’s done some pool triathlons now.

“The first big jump is to be able to let go of the wall and float on their own. Everybody floats, but most people don’t float with their feet at the surface. You might be kind of tipped like a teeter-totter, but everybody does float. There’s a difference between buoyancy and balance. Buoyancy is how level you are when you’re stationary; balance is how level you are when you’re swimming through the water. As a swim instructor, buoyancy doesn’t really matter to me. Unless I put you on a steady diet of cheeseburgers and beer, there’s nothing I can do to make you float any better.

“If I can get a person to kind of relax into a float with their face down in the water, or to float on their backs with the waterline really close to their face, I can usually have them swimming. Not a mile. But I can have them swimming in 15 minutes.

“A lot of times we get people who, if you threw them in the deep end, they could kick like hell to get to the side of the pool. That frenetic arm and leg movement is a survival reflex, because they’re not comfortable with just hanging out in the water. You want to be able to swim with the least amount of noise and bubbles possible. If mothers are clutching their children and trying to get away from you, that means you’re not relaxed and in control.

“Adults forget that when you’re learning something, time does need to pass. I went through this when I was learning to play mandolin. I remember distinctly going into my first lesson and figuring that I’d be taking four or five lessons and I’d be gigging out. Know that swimming is something you can do into your 80s and 90s. You don’t have to get it all done this month.”