EMMA HOLLINGWORTH: The importance of learning to swim

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I AM a firm believer that all children should be able to swim. This is not a luxury but a life-saving skill and one which should be given as much significance as maths and English at school.

But sadly it is not a key priority and so it is up to parents to make sure their children get properly equipped for their life in this way. And it can be an expensive pursuit.

Within weeks of my first daughter being born she was bundled into the car and whisked off to a baby and toddler session at a local pool.

Despite still being the size of a doll, she was suitably kitted out in the world’s tiniest swimsuit and shoved into what can only be described as a floating seat. She was barely able to hold her head up and her legs were so scrawny she slipped through the float a number of times. But despite this I was keen to make sure she was given as much exposure to the water as possible so she wouldn’t develop any irrational fears later in life.

At first she wasn’t keen. The water was cold on her womb-fresh skin and she certainly wasn’t keen on the fact swimming meant getting dressed and undressed. Despite the loud squawks of protest in the changing room every time I took her, I persisted. And my perseverance has paid off as she is now a great swimmer and has just moved into a much more advanced swimming group at the local pool. The next stage is only one below Olympic level training.

She is like a fish. Any holiday we take has to include a visit to the pool or the sea. Or better still having our own pool at our holiday villa as we did last year. As soon as the sun was up you could hear her splashing about in the water, dive bombing in and squealing with delight.

Her younger brother has been taking lessons along side her for the best part of a year now but this has been much more of a mission. He is not a natural lover of the swimming pool. He would much rather be curled up under his favourite blanket in front of the TV. It takes many bribes of biscuits and treats to persuade him into his bathing costume and then into the pool. And for the first few months he just clung on to his instructor, barely leaving her side. But recently we have noticed a marked improvement. He swims a width (with much encouragement and complete with floats) on his own and has even started jumping in by himself. I am hopeful he will be able to swim, even if it is only a small stretch, without any aids by the end of the year.

And then it will be the turn of the youngest member of the family who I swear has a set of gills rather than lungs. She already “practices” in the bath loudly shouting “I swimming” as she dives beneath the surface sending water cascading all over the bathroom floor. But her latest, rather alarming trick, is to lie flat on her back in the bath completely submerged - very much reminiscent of Millais’ Pre-Raphaelite painting of “Ophelia”. There is no way you can ever leave her on her own in the bath.

The way the girls are heading I would not be at all surprised if they took up swimming at a professional level – maybe even competing. Maybe even in the Olympics one day?! (There’s nothing like having high ambitions!)

I will certainly get them to watch the swimming when the London 2012 games are on the television in a few weeks time. And to warm them up I intend taking them to see the Olympic torch when it comes to the city later on this month. On June 25th it will pass through the streets of Sheffield culminating in a free stage show in the city centre. It will be running just near our house just ahead of this in a once in a lifetime not to be missed opportunity. I’ll certainly be cheering it on armed with three small flag-waving supporters. Hopefully they will remember this for the rest of their lives.

For more details about where the torch will be and the route it will take in the city visit: www.welcometosheffield.co.uk/OTR.