RESERVE — One by one, the students pulled off their cover-ups and T-shirts, darted under the shower, then made their way toward the REGALA pool Friday evening.
There was no hesitation to get into the water — well, except for the slight chill to due to an afternoon rain shower.
Most important, there was no fear.
It made Melanie Wright want to cry.
On July 11, when these adults had first arrived at the pool, the last thing most of them wanted to do was get in the water. A few of them were downright terrified to do so.
Over just four days, Wright changed all that. She turned a bunch of 40- to 60-year-old men and women into brave, strong swimmers capable of taking care of themselves in the water, with certificates to prove it.
“These people were scared to death four days ago,” Wright said. “They wouldn’t put their heads in the water. They had to hold their nose. They wouldn’t open their eyes. They had to hold on and grab me. We’re talking terrified.”
By Friday, however, they were swimming and floating and happy to do so.
“It’s miraculous,” Wright said. “I’m just so proud of them, and they’re proud of themselves.”
Julie Butler of LaPlace is one of those folks who grew up with a fear of water.
“I, actually, was always scared of water because someone tried to push me in at a young age,” Butler said. “I’ve been wanting to come here for the longest, and every time I’d say I’m going to pay somebody to teach me how to swim. Then when I get there I’d freeze up and I’d never go. For some reason, this lady made it so easy for me. I don’t even fear the water anymore.”
Evelyn Sewell of LaPlace has been taking Wright’s water aerobics class at the pool all summer, but never really knew how to swim. She made sure her sons learned, but never learned herself.
“We just live around so much water I feel like we need to know how to swim,” she said. “I do have a fear of water. I still have a little fear, but since I’ve been coming to this class I’ve conquered some of that fear. I’m comfortable. I can probably save my life. I don’t know about somebody else’s.”
Wright said students like Sewell were the inspiration for the free class she and Anita Hefler taught last week.
“We had the kids swim class and they had so many adults that said, ‘I always wanted to learn how to swim’ or ‘I’m scared to get in the pool.’ Then we realized that a lot of the men and women who take water aerobics don’t even know how to swim. They would hover near the front wall in the shallow end. So Anita and I got together and decided, OK, let’s teach a week of nothing but adults.”
They signed up 60 adults for the one-week class, with more on a waiting list.
“When I first came, honestly, I was nervous to do much,” said Raymond Campbell of LaPlace. “I was not good at it. There were some fears. Before this class the furthest I would ever go is 5 feet. Now I’ll go to the 9 feet area.”
Wright understands what her students had to go through. She, too, had to overcome her fear of the water.
“I was very fearful of the water at age 5,” Wright said. “My grandmother took me to Tulane University and put me in swim lessons. I totally understand.
“My mother once told me, ‘When was the last time you got to do something for the first time in your life?’ As you get older, we stop doing things for the very first time. So to have these 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-year-old people say, ‘I’ve gone all these years without going into the water but, you know what, I trust you. I put my faith in you. I’m going to learn to swim.’ That’s a gift.”