drowning prevention

Adults Learning to Swim Past Age 50: ‘It's Never Too Late to Learn'

YMCA locations across North Texas offer adult swimming lessons to help people take the plunge and push past the fear

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We’re wrapping up Swim Week on NBC 5 Today, NBC 5’s Alanna Quillen teams with the local YMCA to help prevent childhood drowning deaths this summer.

But it's not just kids. According to the Red Cross, one in five adults in the United States can't swim.

YMCA locations across North Texas offer adult swimming lessons to help people take the plunge and push past the fear.

“You’re just never too old to learn anything,” said Angela White, who didn’t learn how to swim until 53 years old. “As long as your mind is still there, you can learn anything that you put your foot forward to. I just told myself, 'Angela, you can do it, you can do it, you can do it.' And it’s really just had an impact on me.”

She and others have found confidence in the water after taking adult swimming lessons at Park South YMCA in Dallas.

“You just never know when you might have to save someone or even save yourself,” she said. "I didn’t have my confidence built up. And then the people here around me in the pool, we became like a family.“

But there's one thing that kept them out of the water for so long.

“For swimming, especially for older adults, is getting past the fear,” said Jesse Brown Jr.

Despite being from the coastal city of Galveston and taking swimming classes during his service in the military, he didn't learn how to swim until age 56.

“I feel pretty good. I feel like if I fall off the ship I can swim!" he joked.

He credits learning to swim at the pool for saving his life two years ago. The now 58-year old has congestive heart failure and doctors said he needed exercise to get better, perhaps with water aerobics.

Now, he's a swimming miracle.

“It has brought me from having an oxygen tank to come to the pool to swim across the pool,” he said.

Others are still trying to get to that point like 63-year old Rosie Cantu.

“When I was little I almost drowned. The water went in my nose, my ears. Somebody was trying to save me," she said.

The fear has lingered with her for decades. But that changed two months ago, when she watched her sister almost drown in the very pool she swims in every week for her aerobics class.

Rosie Cantu is 63-years old and is finally ready to learn how to swim after a traumatic incident at the pool.

“Her belt came undone. And she didn’t have [a floatie] so I threw her one of these and she couldn’t get it. I was trying to get to her,” she said.

Lifeguards rescued Cantu's sister but the experience inspired her and others to take adult swimming lessons with the YMCA.

“Yes, I need to learn to at least float. But I want to learn how to swim,” she said.

Fellow swimmer Brenda Kelley witnessed the incident.

"She panicked and she couldn’t speak. And so the guards didn’t actually know that she was drowning," she said.

Kelley said she also didn’t know how to swim until she was 56. Now, thanks to classes at Park South YMCA, she’s become so confident in the water that she is now the water aerobics instructor.

“Instead of panicking, think what your next move is going to be to save your life,” she said.

Surveys have shown nearly half of adults can't swim well enough to save themselves.

But this group is proof it's never too late.

“That’s like anything in life, you got to get over your fear in order to progress. And the pool is one of those very special places where if you have fear – I don’t care what techniques you have – you’re not going to be able to swim," said Brown. “The only way you’re going to get better as a person is for you to learn. That’s the way I look at it. Most people that know me here know I’ll try anything at least once because I try to get past my fear.”

Click here if you are interested in taking swim classes. If cost is an issue, the YMCA offers scholarships and other assistance for those who need it.

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