“Every stereotype has a nucleus, ” my friend and fellow comedian Vince Morris often says. Unfortunately, I realized I had let myself become the embodiment of one: Black people can’t swim.
What’s that? You hadn’t heard that stereotype before? The rest of the world has, as have American researchers, too. Despite the efforts of two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, researchers say there are a variety of reasons we aren’t learning how to swim – a fear of drowning (which is what I have) being a major one.
Alas, for all the titles I’ve had in my life— reporter, public relations director, NFL intern, writer, movie critic, sneaker enthusiast, stand-up comedian, HGTV star— there’s one that’s never been on that list: swimmer. Now, at age 35, I’ve decided to do something about it.
But in January 2013, a comedy festival requiring me to visit San Francisco that forced me to confront my greatest fear of all: Flying. Safely traveling to and from the West Coast, I realized I could survive facing my fears. Throw in how much I dislike stereotypes, let alone being one, and the quest to learn how to swim was in full effect.
As I suited up for my first lesson, I kept thinking “What have I gotten myself into?” The answer—a pool!—was obvious. What was not so obvious, though, is just how important a positive attitude and sense of calm is to any success.
And if you’re considering getting swimming lessons, having a teacher like Brian that can help instill them in you is a great way to make you dive in head first.
Fresh off giving a lesson to another older, new swimmer —a woman at least 30 years my senior—I quickly sized up Brian to be everything I’m not: A 24 year-old, fresh-faced White dude who has been swimming nearly as long as he could walk. Energetic and friendly with looks that could serve him well should One Direction decide to add a new member, his easy-going vibe made the experience so much smoother.
“If I had to choose one thing that I think holds swimmers back the most, I would say that it is the lack of confidence,” he said. “Many swimmers not have the confidence to trust themselves. In return, some will panic and cause themselves more problems than need be. “
Knowing my concerns, Brian started me off in a shallow pool so that I, at 5-foot-7, could stand if I necessary. That in turn helped me worry a lot less about being in public with my shirt off (no one is going to mistake me for Rick Ross, but I am chubby), which made it easier for me to relax and take instruction.
Familiarizing myself with previously foreign objects like a kickboard, pool noodle and a foam pad trainer, I’ve gone from being a bit shook by the pool to actually enjoying being in the water. While I am not ready to challenge Michael Phelps by any means, I’m no longer afraid to get in the water (at least not the shallow end) thanks to Brian’s Zen-like approach, a little determination and my growing sense of “I can do this.”
In fact, by the end of my third lesson, I swam an actual lap in a pool. Sure, it came with the aid of a noodle under my arms, but compared to where I was when I started, I’ll take it.
Brian says my progress “has been great.”
“I laughed when you told me that if you entered an aquatic facility to call 911 and wait. But with only a couple of lessons under your belt, I’ve been surprised at your willingness to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try everything that I have asked you to do,” Brian said. “You have realized your potential. I’m excited to see how much more progress you can make.”
Don’t let your fears sink your chance to do the same.