By learned I mean learnING and by swim I mean swim CORRECTLY... Swimming takes on a whoooole new meaning when you have to submerge your head completely under water and learn essential breathing techniques.
At a very young age, mothers instill the rule to their daughters, "do not mess up your hair," especially in the African American culture. This message included, but was not limited to, swimming. Why? Because the countless hours that were invested into making curly hair straight would've been a waste of time and money down the drain.
I challenged myself as I embarked NYE 2017 because I would be spending 7 days in the British Virgin Islands for Yacht Week. 7 whole days, and I didn't know how to swim. I wanted to jump into the water with my lifeguard friends and not be afraid of dying! My version of swimming was holding by head above water as deep as I could stand up in.
In September 2016, I signed up for private lessons at SwimMAC located at Charlotte Latin School, with the hopes of overcoming this obstacle within 4 months of vacation.
This is where my friendship began with Mary Sue, my swim instructor. I had MAJOR trust issues with Mary Sue before we ever met; Could she save me if I drowned? How patient will she be? Does she understand how afraid I am? What will I do with my HAIR? All of these questions prevented me from signing up sooner, but finally I decided no more.
Did I magically learn how to swim like a fish before my vacation? In January 2018, needless to say, I shamelessly went to BVI with kiddie arm floats. I realized I would need a lot more time than 4 months, and I was determined to learn even after my vacation. With this in mind, I had to put the health and maintenance of my hair in consideration. A year had passed, I'd stopped straightening my hair, and started embracing my natural curls. I wasn't using my hair as an excuse in the learning process, and I didn't have to tailor my lessons around when my hair was "done". No longer was I gonna be a slave to my hair. I was ready to fully commit by eliminating the anxiety of "not messing up my hair".
Everyday I encounter women whose only concern is "how do I keep my hair like this?" Worries of ruining it from working out or even the rain, so obviously going for a swim is out of the question. On this journey of embracing my true curls, I'm no longer burdened with how to keep from getting my hair wet.
MYTH: Swim Caps Keep Your Hair Dry
Fact: False. The purpose of a swim cap is to keep your hair out your face.
My new concern - how to keep my swim cap on! Hence, the braided styles you often see me wear. They fit perfectly under my swim cap and I'm able to rinse and co-wash before heading to work without much effort. The pool can be brutal to all hair types, so every weekend I apply conditioning treatments before re-braiding.
I've attend lessons twice a week for the past 20 weeks, and now I'm no longer holding Mary Sue's hand to jump into 12 feet of water. I'm now in a group session, sharing Mary Sue's attention, and I have yet to drown! I'm no Michael Phelps and my technique isn't perfect, but I'm determined to swim a triathlon one day. My biggest challenge was getting out of my own way and not overthinking things. Instead of visualizing myself diving to my death, I chose to visualize these goals instead.
Everyday my hair gets wet and curly and that's OK! It's not always easy to be a curly girl and often I find myself apologizing for my hair; mostly on days when I leave the pool and come straight to work. Instead, I have learned ways to be creative and experiment with ways of wearing my hair that supports my lifestyle both in and out of the pool. The lesson in it all is to be YOU unapologetically YOU! Your hair doesn't have to stop you from achieving your goals and living your best life.
A Message From Mary Sue on My Journey
How to describe Shassity as a student?
Shassity is one determined woman. When I met her in the Fall of 2016, she told me she was going to be sailing for BVI, and needed to get comfortable in the water. My first thought - darn I want her life!! My second thought was, I have to get her relaxed and treading so she can enjoy this trip of a lifetime!! I could sense her fear and anxiety but to her credit she pushed through. She approached her lessons with honesty (her raw fear) and courage by never giving up. We focused on what tools she’d have to help her while swimming alongside the boat along with the basic skills to float, kick and tread. She promised to return after her trip, so she could learn how to swim freestyle, and she did. I was so thrilled to hear from her after her vacation. I understand swimming was not easy for her and have such respect for my swimmers that meet the water head on despite their anxiety.
How has Shassity Progressed Since Your First Meeting in Fall 2016?
Fast forward to today and you will see Shassity swimming laps! She arrives with a smile, gets right in and starts kicking with a board to warm up. I still see glimpses of anxiety if she gets water up her nose, but that is normal. No one enjoys that sensation! Despite being challenged by a new drill, Shassity pushes through with determination and accomplishes the new movement. She not only is swimming freestyle, but has started backstroke as well. She has set her goal to swim and is reaching it!!
Describe your Response When Shassity Informed You About How Hair Plays a Major Role in Not Knowing How to Swim?
When Shassity told me she was going to blog about her experience in learning to swim, I thought awesome! I meet so many adults who never had the chance to learn to swim and are unable to enjoy the water today with their families and friends. It's especially an issue for adults with children. Parents hold back on July 4th relay races and family vacation days by letting their fear get ahead of enjoying time with their children. But hair?? I had never considered hair a reason to not swim. To be fair, I am not a girly girl, I spend no more than ten minutes on my hair and that's only when I have a special occasion. I grew up on the beach where hair was in a ponytail PERIOD- curly or straight - style wasn’t considered. Thinking back, my Mom didn’t get her hair wet, probably because she had a standing weekly hair appointment (I am happy to report, those days are gone and today she is way more active now and goes under water often!).
Are we choosing style and looks over safety?
So as a society (warning - tangent coming here!), what are woman choosing? Are we choosing style and looks over safety? Water safety should always be number one. We need to give ourselves and our daughters the gift of knowing how to swim. We need to know how to react in water - how to save yourself in an emergency, one never knows when she could fall off a dock, boat etc. or need to help someone else in distress. In addition to safety we need to prioritize exercise. Exercise is the key our health. Swimming is an awesome form of overall exercise. Many people find the pool following overuse injuries. The water is gentle on joints. Anyone can enjoy the water and build up strength as well as learn to swim.
I don't have a daughter but if I did, I would strongly encourage her to swim with an active hairstyle versus not be active. We woman need to put strength and enjoyment ahead of perceived good looks. Our smile of accomplishment and strong body will beam more brightly than any hairstyle!
Afraid of the Water?
"Fear is okay to a degree, everyone should have a healthy respect for water, we aren’t fish..."
That being said, everyone can learn and you must for your safety. I have students of all ages, some in their late 70’s who are just now learning how to swim. It’s never too late.
But how? slowly....we kick holding the side , then we float and add a glide, then we blow bubbles. One bubble at a time. And before you know it you can put it all together!
It is so important to keep learning new things in life. Swimming is a gift - it will open new opportunities to you - a form of overall exercise, a new groups of friends, fun with kids or grandkids, snorkeling trips etc. Don’t wait any longer, today is the day! Give me a call!
Contact Mary Sue Curry, Private Swim Instructor:
firstname.lastname@example.org|704-957-0216 | www.swimmaccarolina.org