Learning to Swim At Any Age

Robert Antonio shares his Y story about tackling his fear of the water and learning how to swim.

Robert Antonio is 69 and is living life to its fullest.

It wasn’t always that way. Robert retired from his job in Washington, D.C. and then spent six years caring for his ailing mother who had dementia. It was a full-time commitment and he found that he was unable to go anywhere as she needed constant care. Consequently, Robert found his health was in jeopardy as his blood pressure shot up to dangerous levels. Finally, a healthcare professional, who would stop in once a week to check on his mother, helped him make a critical decision. In Robert’s words, “I could die and leave mom alone or put her in a home and try to find a life for myself.” He opted to take care of himself and put his mother in a place where others were better equipped to care for her.

That left Robert with a new dilemma. “My future could have taken two paths: stagnating in place or moving forward. I chose the latter and I chose physical challenges. I called the [Kennett Area] Y and asked for a tour.”

Overcoming Fears
Among the features of the Kennett Area YMCA was a pool. The pool brought back frightening memories of a near drowning incident Robert had when he was a child. He decided right then that was where he was going to start -- by facing one of his greatest fears and learning to swim.

“I was scared to death in three feet of water,” Robert recalled. “Sally, my swim instructor at the Y, convinced me I wasn’t going to die. And it’s been a process, and she has been very patient, but I can now swim about 20 lengths, doing different strokes!”

He first learned elementary backstroke, then freestyle, backstroke and now breast stroke. “I would like to do more lengths in freestyle, but I still don’t quite have the breathing part down.” Sally now has him jumping off the starting blocks, and he anxiously admits that she is going to teach him diving soon.

In addition to the obvious physical benefits of swimming and exercising – getting his blood pressure in check, burning calories and keeping his muscles toned - there are social and emotional benefits. “I’ve met a couple of guys when I go to swim.” Robert chuckled as he shared, “One of them keeps telling me I’m going to take Michael Phelps’ place at the 2020 Olympics!”

Robert’s mother passed away last October. While it is never easy to lose a loved one, he admitted, “I was happy for her when she passed. She was 98 years old and had spent most of her final years in a wheelchair. She wasn’t cognizant of her surroundings. It wasn’t much of a life.”

New Challenges
His success with swimming and seeing his mother pass as she did, prompted him to do more. Another goal he is currently working on is obtaining a black belt in karate. He is the second oldest student in the class and already is testing for his blue belt, so that goal is in sight. But he won’t stop there, he has other goals in mind, if he can fit them into his busy schedule. “I swim three times a week, practice karate every day and take the class two nights a week, but it’s never too late to learn something new!”

Despite appearances, Robert says he is not superman. He was doing squats with “kids” one day, when something gave and his left knee collapsed. He subsequently had to change his form, but he endured. “I’m no athlete,” he stated. “I have limitations, but I’m in decent shape. It would have been easy to get old, but I don’t want to.”

His advice for the over 50 crowd, “Think of something you’d like to learn and get out there and do it!”

Robert has started a free discussion forum for the over 50 crowd who want to start or talk about their new experiences. Join the discussion today lifebeginsat67.com.

Category: Y Stories