Some, like me, have had traumatic water-related incidents that affect their ability to feel comfortable swimming.
That, plus her concern for drowning prevention and water safety, is one reason Shults started her “40 for 40” Face in Water Project to mark her 40th birthday.
The former Ocean Beach resident was a 12-year veteran ESL (English as a second language) instructor in San Diego schools when she received her annual layoff notice last year. She decided that was one too many layoff notices, and opted not to return to public education — at least now — but to refocus on her first love, teaching swimming. She was determined to use her birthday as a catalyst to examine what she wanted to do in next in life.
“I felt I was supposed to have a greater effect on people than I was and make a noticeable difference in people’s lives,” she said.
A passionate swimmer since childhood and a swim instructor for 22 years, Shults is happiest in the water. She resolved to honor her birthday by giving 40 people of varied ages and backgrounds a one-hour swimming lesson, teaching breathing techniques and helping them overcome any reluctance to put their faces in the water.
“My intention was to change people’s relationship with the water. It’s a challenge for me to do it in an hour,” she said.
For her project, Shults is using The Plunge, Mission Beach’s historic, heated indoor pool, part of the Wave House Athletic Club, now being upgraded under new management. The pool at The Plunge is maintained at about
84 degrees, ideal for swimming.
I was Shults’ sixth project participant and her first adult. I had long wanted to learn to swim properly, since I had never learned how to breathe while swimming. I had met Shults at The Plunge while I was “water-walking” with friends and she was teaching charming 3-year-old twins. I was impressed with her easy manner and encouraging approach toward teaching.
Afterward, in the locker room, I asked if she taught adults, too. She explained her project. It was only when I explained that I didn’t submerge my face because I didn’t know how to breathe that I realized I had had three separate near-drowning incidents by age 6. The last of these was during my final swimming class. None of these affected my love of the water, but they left me a poor swimmer.
I went for my lesson with Shults with great excitement, but minimal expectations. Could she really teach me how to breathe and swim properly in just an hour? Yes, indeed, she could — and did.
For me, it was the most liberating experience. I flew through the pool, especially when she fitted me with fins. I felt as if she had given me back the joy and exhilaration I experienced in the water as a child, but had lost as an adult.
Now, following my water-walking sessions, I return to the pool to practice my breathing and swimming techniques, each time increasing my number of laps. I’ve continued lessons, learning backstroke and refining my freestyle. Most important, I feel more confident and safer in the water.
My experience is not unique. Through her project, Shults has already taught infants and mature adults, including several who had never swam before, the basics of swimming and breathing.
“I decided to do this project for myself. It’s very selfish. I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they do something they didn’t think they could ever do. I look at them and know they can do it. I get to spend that time with them pushing them to a level they never thought was possible,” she said.
Shults is looking for a few more people, particularly adults, who want to change their relationship with the water and learn or improve their swimming. If you would like to participate, visit www.faceinwater.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, explaining your story and interest in swimming.
It’s never too early or late to learn how to swim.