JanetI’ve been procrastinating about writing this final project participant blog. I mean… once I hit Submit, it’s over. Project: Face in Water will officially end and I haven’t been ready for that. But I am now.

IMG_2045In December 2012, I resigned from a swim school that I had been at intermittently for 17 years. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but now I can honestly say it was the best decision of my life. I started my project with absolutely no idea how many incredible people I would meet, how many times I would honestly be shocked at the news that someone can’t swim and how many tears of joy I would be privileged enough to witness. For example… my final participant, Janet.



The fact that Janet and I were able to meet was nothing short of serendipitous. Our communication began on April 20, 2013 when I received the most amazing e-mail from her in response to the wonderful article Nicole (Project Participant #6) wrote in the Beach & Bay Press:

“Dear Kim, Talk about serendipity. Last night I couldn’t sleep. As my mind wandered, from topic to topic, I finally settled on and started fixating on this: I’ve got to find someone who will teach me how to swim. I wasn’t sure how I would find that someone, however. Just now, I was quickly flipping through the Beacon, that was soggy from my sprinklers. I was about to throw it into the recycling bin, when I caught the article about you. Taking it as a sign, I didn’t even read it all the through. I just scanned it for contact info, and here I am.”


Talk about SERENDIPITY! Seriously, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. I was so excited that she saw the article and had the courage to contact me. Of course I was anxious to work with her.

“My story: I was born on a farm in North Dakota. The closest pool was 20 miles away… I think I learned how to kick while hanging on to a floatation device. We moved here when I was 10, and it seemed like every kid I met was already part fish. I was mortified to be invited to pool parties, because I couldn’t do a fraction of what the other kids could do. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me or my parents to get some lessons. I guess it seemed like it was already too late.” 

Too late?! Too late?! It’s NEVER too late!!
“A couple of years ago, I took rowing lessons at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center… we had to pass a “swim” test. I confessed to the 20-year-old teacher that I couldn’t swim, and he said, ‘Sure you can.’ Somehow, he got me to jump off the dock, into the water. I’m not sure how many yards it was. Eleventeen billion, I think. Over the years, from faking it at pool parties, I’ve figured out a modified side stroke. Before long, the whole class (who had already finished their tests with no problems) was crouched down on the dock, encouraging me to keep going. I did the side stroke for a bit more, then stopped and told the teacher he should throw me the life
IMG_2012preserver. ‘You don’t need it,’ he said, so I kept going. By the time I got to the end, there were two or three people (complete strangers up to this point) who helped me up onto the dock. Everyone hugged me. The young teacher said, ‘I told you you could do it.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life. I hugged him and got him all wet.”
It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we are in survival mode. I remember Resa (Project Participant #26) sharing a similar story. I’m so impressed with the young teacher that didn’t allow Janet to give up.
“Ever since then I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to find someone who would teach me how to really swim. I think I figured out the side stroke because I didn’t want to put my face in the water. I also hate to have water in my ears. (It actually hurts a little bit. I’m convinced I have faulty ear canals.) I’ve gone to two different Y’s to sign up for swimming lessons, but walked out each time. So here I am, seeing if you still have room in your program for me.”
Uh…yea. How could I ever turn this woman down? Janet’s e-mail was one of many heartfelt stories I received from complete strangers. Her story really stuck with me as the months went on, but we weren’t very good at setting a date for her project participation. The end of the project drew near and I
studentknew Janet had to be involved. So, I made one last effort to connect and set a date- this time with success.
She entered Dive California shaking with terror. When I asked her how she was doing, she said she was “absolutely terrified.” One of the angels that has made my project possible, Kehaulani from Wonderstruck Photography, was there, as well as my mom, who came to observe me in action. Between the four of us, you could just tell that everything was going to be okay. There was such awesome feminine strength on that pool deck- it was very powerful.

IMG_2050I could not have hand-picked a more appropriate 40th participant for Project: Face in Water. Janet and I had a very special connection. Everything was in place for a successful breakthrough swim lesson: Janet e-mailed me asking for help; she shared her story with me; she showed up at the pool. She was ready to learn and I was ready to teach.

It’s so difficult to describe the experience in words, but Kehaulani’s pictures speak volumes. I filmed Janet swimming, with her face in the water, gracefully across the pool. She wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t shown her. She kept repeating, “That’s me?! No! I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. That’s me?! No! Is it? I can’t believe it.”

When I asked her if she knew how to float on her back, Janet half- joked, “No, I failed that.” I could see her brain going right back to her six-year-old self. She remembered the instructor going down the line of students and telling everyone they passed. When she reached Janet she said, “You have to come back.” Janet told me that her thought at that time was, “Oh hell no.” I helped Janet do a back float on her own, then we sat on the steps to look at her videos. She turned to hug me, broke down and started crying, sobbing. There was so much emotion and it was such a release for her. She completely let herself go and allowed herself to grieve the ashamed child she was 47 years ago and embrace the phenomenal, empowered, swimming adult that she had become.



Janet cried. Kehaulani cried. I cried. My mom cried. If you were there, you would have cried too. Janet held me tightly and said, “If I tried to stand up right now, I’d fall over.” What an incredible hour in all of our lives!



Janet e-mailed to let me know that the lesson had done a complete 180 for her relationship with water. She was no longer afraid. She explained, “Now I know why little kids who have no fear of water have so much fun in the pool. I feel just like one of those joyful kids now.” Welcome back to being six years old again, Janet!


Click above for video!

I saw Janet about a month later for a swim lesson with her daughter, Anne Marie. She was a completely different person than the woman I met that day on the pool deck. She held herself with such confidence and was absolutely at peace with the water. So relaxed and happy-like a little kid 🙂 Check out the video of Janet’s first lesson. At the very end, there’s a clip of Janet and Anne Marie swimming gracefully side by side.