Taking the plunge

2013-06-18 00:00

THE smell of chlorine and the plastic dividers separating the blue lanes echo back to the days of swimming galas and goggles, swimming caps and costumes. The wet slap of footprints on paving stones is nostalgic.

But this is not a school pool, and the dedicated women training here are all adults who have taken a plunge of a different kind.

Kath Boast is a Pietermaritzburg swimming coach who has encouraged many adult women to break through boundaries and use swimming to keep fit, and to attain goals they would previously never have imagined. Some of the women had never put a foot in a pool before and they began by learning to float, but with gentle encouragement, and under Boast’s steady tutelage, they have conquered their fears.

From floating to doggy paddling to major achievements such as the Midmar Mile, Boast has been there, next to them every step of the way, urging them to “just keep swimming”, in the words of Dory the loveable fish in Finding Nemo.

Her team of “Swim Chix” is an assortment of women from all walks of life who have embraced swimming as an exercise and they have all bonded to encourage one another to achieve goals both in and out of the water.

Boast did her training in sports medicine at Stellenbosch University, but found that she was especially keen on helping those with physical disabilities exercise in water. The buoyancy of the water and her patience helped her clients achieve great results.

Although Boast coaches other forms of exercise, she has always been fond of swimming training.

She said: “When I had children, I decided that starting a business as a full-time swimming coach would be a great job and it would suit motherhood and a flexible lifestyle. I love teaching children and I have done for many years, but there is something special about getting adults to overcome their fears.”

Boast is considered to be a “mother hen” to all the women who attend her swimming classes at the G.C. Jolliffe Swimming Pool, and some consider her to be more of a life coach than a swimming coach. She manages to see past their defences and gently builds up their confidence until they are ready to tackle a big goal.

Swimmer Julie Hay said: “I swim for exercise. It’s great because it is weight bearing and there is less chance of injury. Since I have been swimming, I have developed my self-confidence and I have managed to swim the Midmar Mile, and I also recently swam the Ocean Mile in Durban. I am a different person since I started swimming because I know I can push myself and achieve. It really helps to have a group of women who are supportive, and a coach who knows how to get the best from you.”

For Fameeda Kikia, the swimming experience was a real challenge. She had never swum in her life and she was scared. Boast encouraged her to try swimming, and once she was in the pool, she quickly gained confidence. “I came to learn a few strokes, but then I really enjoyed the company of the other ladies.

“At first, I was the one always at the edge, to make sure I could grab on if I needed to, but now I am fully confident. I have a medical condition that affects my co-ordination, and the swimming helps to keep me fit and my muscles toned.”

Zeenath Hoosen (33) said that before she met Boast, she had a deep fear of water. “I was always active in sports and did yoga. Kath had me learn in the shallow end, but after only a few sessions, I was in the deep end.

“Kath is so inspiring and motivates you to achieve, and you just find yourself wanting to swim more lengths, and when there is a challenge you want to do it for yourself and to support others.”

Hoosen says the water is invigorating and the exercise is calming.

“When I am swimming my lengths, I find my mind is still. I don’t think of anything else but me and the water. I actually find it quite healing.”

Heena Parshutam was so inspired by learning to swim that she has gone the next step and become a qualified swimming coach. She was fed up with sitting on the side of the pool watching her children swim, so she decided to learn how to swim.

“I love it so much and I want to share my passion for this sport. I qualified as a teacher so that I can teach blind and deaf children what it is like to be able to swim. It is such a freeing experience to relax and be able to move in the water.”

The joker of the group is Rosie Chite, who has done many adventure sports but swimming was not something she had ever tried. Her sons had learnt how to swim at school and they were always teasing her, so she took up the challenge and began to learn with Kath. Chite has also completed the Midmar Mile and so was able to prove to her boys that she is an adventure mum in all ways: adding swimming to her running and hiking portfolio.

Catherine Bassage said that during her Midmar Mile training she swam halfway across the dam and then she looked back at the shore and panicked. She said: “I can’t do this!” but Boast encouraged her and on the day, along with hundreds of other swimmers, she completed the race. She also went on to do the Dolphin Mile which is a mile in the ocean, a completely different type of swimming.

Every week, wearing their colourful swimming caps, the women of all shapes and sizes slice through the sparkling water, the rythmic splash of their strokes can be heard and Boast urges them to do another few lengths. One woman does an expert tumble turn and heads off to the other end — which seems a long way. For some, the swimming training is a precursor to a cup of tea and a chat about the children. For others, it is an essential pick-me-up before a long day at work.

The group have a great social dynamic and they often go along to swimming events to support each other, even if they are not swimming themselves.

For these go-getter Swim Chix it is all about giving up fears and inhibitions, and taking on life’s challenges one stroke at a time.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za

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