Woman conquers fear, learns to swim
Editor's note: May was declared Water Safety Awareness Month when the state House adopted a resolution May 18. Swim instructor Lydia Pontius offers her perspective on keeping safe in the water.
For nearly 10 years, when not working on websites, planning trips to Mexico or keeping up with my day-to-day life, I have been in the pool. I teach swim lessons and water aerobics at the rec department and Dunes West in Mount Pleasant, and find it to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I work with infants in parent-tot classes, preschool kids through day-care programs, children through school programs, one-on-one and in large classes.
In all my years, I have met so many wonderful people. I have laughed and cried with parents and children. I remember one little girl who was determined not to swim. After months in a battle of wills -- her parents never wavering in their determination that she learn to swim -- she did it, and her mom and I looked at each other and we both had tears rolling down our cheeks.
Then there are those who were born to swim with a comfort level in the water that is so natural and pure a joy to watch.
Each one has touched my heart, but there is one who stands out and, in my opinion, is a story worth sharing. It is really a story of willpower and pure courage. It is Orseanith's story.
Orseanith first came to the rec department to try water aerobics. That in itself was amazing, considering she had a deep-seated fear of the water. But she realized that before she could enjoy water aerobics, she needed to face her fear and learn to swim. That is when I met her. She has been an inspiration to me, and it has been a pure honor to work with her. Never have I seen someone come so far. Never have I witnessed such an internal battle -- her personal crusade.
When she first came, she could not put her face in the water. You see, Orseanith almost drowned when she was a small child. Her mother was so scared that she instilled a great fear in her daughter, thinking she was protecting her. Over the years, that fear became debilitating, truly a phobia.
During the past several months, we have taken baby steps to reverse this fear and to allow Orseanith to get to the point where she can enjoy the water. She has experienced floating on a noodle, then by herself. She learned to put her face in the water and exhale. And she is now learning to fine-tune her stroke.
One of the best days I spent with her was when she put on a buoyancy belt and we walked to the deep end of the pool. Eight-and-a-half feet deep! Orseanith stood on the edge, looked down into the depth of the water, and she had pure panic on her face. She froze. I almost stopped her because I knew she was frightened to death, but instead she took my hand and plunged deep in the water. She had never been over her head before, and when she landed in the water, she yelled with glee! She announced that it was like "bungee jumping." So excited, she immediately got out and jumped two more times. The child in Orseanith finally had a chance to play and enjoy the water.
This story does not fully capture the essence of the experience, nor of the woman, but I do hope in some small way it will encourage others and very possibly save a life. Living in the Lowcountry with water everywhere, it is so important to know how to swim. I hope that Orseanith's story will encourage others to face their fears and learn to swim, and will bear witness to the fact that fear of the water is not what parents should teach their children. Instead, kids need to learn how to swim.
Guest columnist Lydia Linton Pontius lives in Mount Pleasant with her husband, Mike, and their two dogs.