As Executive Director of the Smith Family YMCA, Donnie Chestnutt is proud of the results of Y programs like Safety Around Water (formerly known as SOAR). She says seeing kids from Fairmont School District learn to swim at the Y is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
But when it came to her own swimming abilities, she thought finding the time to learn the important life skill might be out of reach. That was until this fall, when the topic of her hesitancy around water got to close friend and volunteer swim lesson instructor Larry Johson.
“Somebody spilled the beans to him and one day he said ‘What’s this I’m hearing? You can’t swim?’. I said ‘Uh, no. I can walk, and sometimes I can run.’ He goes ‘you get in here and I’ll teach you to swim. I’m not taking no for an answer.’ All of the sudden the staff was cheering me on,” Chestnutt said.
Johnson, a volunteer in Y’s Safety Around Water program, said he learned to swim at a YMCA and helping teach lessons, whether to children or adults, is a fulfilling way to give back.
“In college, I wanted to work for a YMCA but ended up teaching. I retired a little over a year ago and I knew that I wanted to volunteer, and specifically volunteer for the Y,” he said. “I think that even helping one person means I could be saving someone from drowning. It’s extremely rewarding to see them succeed.”
Together, they put a plan into place to help Donnie face the challenge of learning to swim. Donnie said she was able to overcome her reservations about the process by thinking back to the students in the Safety Around Water program.
“When I look at the Safety Around Water program, the kids come in on Monday and you see a vast difference in them on Friday. It makes you think ‘maybe I can learn.’ It’s scary, but at the same time it’s inspiring,” she said.
She described being acutely aware of ebbs and flows of improvement every day in the water.
“You know when you’re doing well and when it is not a good day you can feel it too. One day I was trying to steal breaths and I wasn’t getting enough air. When I would bring my head up I tended to stop kicking and Larry always tells me to keep kicking,” Chestnutt said.
Over the course of a few weeks Johnson said he noticed a significant change in her abilities.
“Donnie really has worked hard. I was very impressed. Of all the adults I’ve worked with she was probably the most committed,” he said. “She went from being at least nervous, if not afraid, to being fairly confident around water. She’s willing not only to jump in the deep end, but swim the length of the pool.”
And for Chestnutt, the message is to spread further awareness that it is never too late to learn.
“I just get giddy thinking of it. I know I’m not alone. There are a lot of people like me out there. Hopefully this will encourage others,” she said.
If you would like to learn more about taking swim lessons at the Y, you can find more information here. And for more details on our Safety Around Water Program, including how you can help support the program through a charitable gift, click here.