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In at the deep end: learning to swim at almost 40

Words by Nathan Irvine

EDGAR’s Nathan Irvine on taking up a new hobby in later life

I was drawing some curious looks from the lifeguard. A mixture of concern and bewilderment at what he was observing. The scene: a grown man armed with a cheap pair of swimming goggles, nose clip and ear plugs bobbing up and down in the water at the side of a pool… watching YouTube. It’s not your average method of learning how to swim, but, well, it’s how I’ve been doing it.

Apart from splashing around in various pools and bodies of water, I hadn’t tried to seriously swim for decades. Probably during primary school, which is a good 28 or so years ago. I distinctly remember one session where I had to swim 200 metres in my pyjamas, and to this day I have no idea why. Anyway, flash forward to now and without a teacher there to give me instructions or force me to drench my nightwear, I’m learning to swim again at the age of 39.

Splash down

I’ve learned a few skills thanks to the abundance of “how to” videos on the internet. I can repair a road bike wheel, change a plug and perform a half decent moonwalk thanks to YouTube tutorials. And though it’s an impractical way of learning to swim properly, having my phone by the side of the pool to double-check tips has been helping massively.

Signing up for my first ever triathlon is the reason I’ve jumped back in the pool again. The cycling and running bits should be OK. But if I can’t swim 1.5km then I can forget about the dry land activities. My first few sessions were rough. There was lots of splashing and thrashing for very little movement. I’d imagined myself carving through the water like a slightly out of shape porpoise, but actually looked like I was in trouble.

Shutterstock Dreaming of a front crawl this smooth

All together now

But like anything, with a bit of practice I started to get the hang of things. The hardest part is trying to put it all together. Breathing at the right time, making sure my head was under the water, stretching through each stroke and a million other things I hadn’t really considered, all need to be done at the same time. As an adult it’s a struggle but my kids, who are also learning to swim, don’t even need to think about it - it just comes naturally.

I can manage a non-stop 1.5km now, but only with breaststroke and that’s not going to cut it during a triathlon. But with a bit more practice and a few more poolside viewings of YouTube tutorials, I’m confident that I’ll be able to teach myself how to swim properly. Which should settle the nerves of the watching lifeguards too.

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