The Unsinkable Bri

8.01.2014


I can't swim. Do you know how long that's been my mantra? 28 years.

I had a couple of really scary experiences with water as a kid and at some point it just became my thing: I couldn't swim. I avoided pool parties as a teenager, terrified of having to explain it or that someone throw me in the pool. I wore life jackets whenever I was on a boat. I stayed in knee-deep waters when all my friends went rushing into whatever lake or ocean we were playing in. I couldn't swim and that was OK.

Except that I had always wanted to surf. Like, desperately wanted to. Not to mention... I live in San Diego.

For the first few years that I was here, it bothered me but not enough to try and get over my debilitating fear of drowning. The thought of trusting someone to teach me how to swim made me literally nauseous. I mean, most people who had tried before just didn't get it. With each failed attempt by someone who swore they could teach me how to swim, I trusted potential instructors less and less.

Because you know what? This isn't an athletic thing. I'm an athletic person! I always understood the mechanics of how to swim. What I didn't understand was how to shut down the massive panic attacks I would have once I couldn't touch the bottom of pool or the ocean with my toes.

Then, one day, Ryan took me surfing (albeit in waist-high waters) and I found something I never had before: motivation. I fell in love with the rush and the dozen or so other emotions that surfing made me feel. If I could replicate that over and over again, why should I let something as stupid as a crippling fear slow me down? Right?!


I set out to find private adult swimming lessons in San Diego, somewhere with a teacher who specialized in people like me.... people who were convinced they would sink and drown if they got near a large body of water. And somehow I did: I found John, a swim coach, scuba diver, and retiree who lived nearby me, off the Sea World exit on the 5.

His promise was that he would teach me to swim in 4 lessons or my money back. Speaking of money, it wasn't going to be cheap: for the 4 50-minute, one-on-one lessons, the cost was $400. And honestly, at this stage in my life, for me, that was more than worth it. After reading his testimonials and seeing that there was a guarantee, I decided to email John about taking lessons. When his pool opened up for the season, I was one of the first people he called to schedule. We booked four lessons, all days apart from each other.

And within one week he taught me how to swim.

It feels so insignificant to say that, because that's really only the consequence of what he actually taught me. I could not be around a pool without feeling my heart rate increase. On a daily basis here in SD, I was reminded of the fact that I was land-locked, despite all the water around me, which made me feel so freaking helpless and embarrassed. When it came to water, I couldn't be the independent girl I was used to being: I had to cling to Ryan or wear a life jacket, all the while, not able to even remotely enjoy myself. My fear was slowly disrupting my life here and worse yet, it was having a major impact on my confidence.

Guarantee or not, I showed up for my first lesson convinced that John was going to turn me away or give up on me. Instead, I left that first day realizing something incredible: drowning is hard to do. It was in that class that John made a joke he probably doesn't even remember: he called me "The Unsinkable Bri." And in that moment my life started to take a new direction. Everything just clicked.


By the end of my fourth lesson, I was jumping into the deep end, treading water, doing back floats and taking underwater selfies. All things that might sound like no big deal to most people, but were previously unfathomable before I met John. And while I'm nowhere near a strong swimmer yet, I am unsinkable and in turn, unafraid. I couldn't convey how huge this is if I tried.

To be honest, I've put off writing this post for months because I wasn't sure if what John taught me had stuck. I didn't have a chance to try and swim on my own until recently and when I got in the water, I didn't know what to expect. When I went from a freestyle swim into a back float, something I wasn't even able to do yet at the time I wasn't finishing John's classes, I knew it was time to share my success here. If for no other reason than to encourage you to get over your deepest fears and to share the realization that my life could have been so much more full if I had gotten over this sooner.

As I go through the process now of surpassing this fear and kicking its ass, I plan on documenting it here. It is, after all, my road to surfing... hopefully. I became a member at a gym with a pool just so I could practice what John told me and I'm signing up for group swimming lessons at SDSU in the fall, something that was not even remotely possible before I met John: I would have freaked out if I tried to learn with other people around or with a coach who didn't know how to work through my fears.

So today, on this first day of the last month of summer, I'm finally confident enough to say to the public: 

I can swim. 
marshmallowsandmargaritas.com said...

Congratulations!!! That is so, so awesome. Getting over a fear like that is no small feat, and the fact that you were able to do it in such a short time span is fantastic. It sounds like John is an awesome teacher and coach. I bet you are going to love swimming (and, eventually, surfing -- I'm trying to learn that, too)!

Avery Johnson said...

Way to go, girl! How incredible you were able to push past your fears and learn to swim! Being an avid swimmer since I was younger, I always took advantage of my ability to get in the water. You've given me a better appreciation for it all. Keep it up!

Nojjy11 said...

Well, what can I say. My name is John Tarney and I had the extreme pleasure of helping Bri overcome her fears. Her story brings a tear to my eye and reminds me of all the fearful adults and children that, like Bri, are now enjoying the water. What a privilege it was and is to help people like Bri. Way to go Bri!

Cara Zamora Palanca said...

Thanks for sharing thing with us! I know what must have been a huge experience for you is hard to encapsulate in one post but I thought this was truly inspirational! As someone who can swim but even now still has a fear of water, I love the idea of the "Unsinkable". It makes me feel pretty invincible, if I may so myself. ;) You go, Bri! Keep on swimming!

Devon said...

This post made me cry. It's beautiful and I'm so happy for you!

Unknown said...

Wow, that is amazing. Such a good post. It's so good to hear that people are still determined enough to overcome their fears. I know when I was young I never would have been able to reach out an do something like this. Great job! If you're every looking to continue your private lessons or even go for an instructors certification, I highly recommend it. There are tons of great local swim schools out there, all with their own benefits. I personally prefer the ones that come to you, super convenient and it makes it more personal and private. Check this school out here, it's the one that I use for myself and my children! Keep swimming and smiling!

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