Nimish's Swimming Journey

Nimish as a swimming instructor with his students

Nimish overcame his fear of the water, swam in the Australian ocean, and now makes waves as a swimming instructor, proving that determination can turn the deepest fears into a sea of endless possibilities. Read on to hear about his inspirational swimming journey, tips for new swimmers and how you can make the most of UNSW’s water safety programs.

Life is one thrilling journey punctuated by countless lessons and adventures. There are moments of triumph and those of stumble. Yet, it's all about showing up, giving it your best, and consistently striving to better ourselves. I'm sure this sentiment rings true for many of us. With this in mind, I'd like to take you along on my personal swimming journey.

My name is Nimish, and I was born and raised in Nagpur, a non-coastal region of India. The concept of swimming or being safe in the water was completely foreign to me. When I was growing up, I always harbored a fear of water bodies, worried about drowning in lakes, dams, or canals. However, it was only when I moved to Sydney, Australia to complete a PHD at UNSW that I began to understand swimming's vital role in coastal living.

I was first exposed to Sydney’s incredible beaches in early 2022 when I completed the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk with some friends. We captured some stunning photos, basked in the sun, and shared these treasured moments with our families and friends. As we wandered to the south side of Coogee Beach, I decided to go for a swim in the ocean, despite not knowing how to swim. All I wanted was a picture of myself standing in the ocean so I didn’t go very deep, concerned that the waves might sweep me out to sea. Although I didn’t feel unsafe at the time, I couldn’t help but notice how everyone else at the beach was confidently swimming and having fun and I wished I could do the same. The ocean seemed dangerous and scary, and I was a little afraid.

Thus, I began my swimming journey in 2022 Term 2 with the HPU Learn to Swim (LTS) program. This was my personal quest to conquer my aquatic fear and fulfil my dream to go surfing one day.

LTS Dinner

I still vividly remember my first swimming lesson. I struggled quite a bit, particularly to stay afloat and so my confidence levels were at an all-time low. But so was everyone else and I didn’t feel alone. I was part of a community of 30 people who all had the same fear and swimming experience as me. It was this supportive environment and our amazing instructors who guided me past my aquaphobia. When I first started swimming, I could barely complete a 10 to 15-meter stretch. Fast forward to now, I'm proudly swimming 600 to 800 meters. Practice makes perfect!

By the end of the LTS program, I had mastered three strokes—freestyle, backstroke, and my personal favourite, breaststroke. However, improving my skills required continuous practice, so I kept swimming even after the program concluded. One day at the pool, I stumbled upon a job posting for a swimming instructor position. Seeing this as an opportunity to gain full access to the pool, gym, and staff benefits (not to mention saving some money!), I applied.

Meeting the eligibility criteria to become an instructor, like swimming 100 meters and diving to retrieve objects, was a challenge. However, with persistent practice and patience, I finally achieved the criteria. As an instructor, I leveraged my learning journey to understand and address the challenges beginners face. Additionally, I took pleasure in sharing my experiences and knowledge. I'm grateful to the aquatic center staff for welcoming me into their amazing team.

As a current swimming instructor, I want to take this opportunity to pass on some of my swimming tips for those who are just starting:

1. Practice with Friends

Beyond its primary goal, the LTS program offered a social haven, a chance to form new friendships, and participate in fun-filled activities. It gave me an escape from my otherwise research-intensive lifestyle and offered me an enriching social circle that frequently came together for swimming practice and hangouts. Swimming with friends was how I learned the best. After every swimming session, my friends and I always scheduled practice sessions—at least two or three times per week. Swimming with friends is not only enjoyable but also creates a safer environment. Aided by constant practice and mutual feedback, my skill set during the program gradually improved.

2. Learning to swim is a long journey

Learning to swim isn't something you can master within a week. With consistent practice, you'll undoubtedly make noticeable progress in a month or two. The goal isn't about how fast or how far you can swim; instead, it's about perfecting your technique and being efficient. Don't expect to swim 50 to 100 meters in one go. Your swimming skills will improve slowly and gradually. It's crucial to focus on improving your technique, ironing out any shortcomings, and discovering the best approach that suits you. Success largely hinges on practice.

3. It’s ok to be afraid

As a beginner, I recall getting anxious when the water level reached my chin, often stopping mid-way. Deep waters were a no-go area for me. To gain confidence, I often swam close to the rope and used a kickboard. Gradually, under my friend's watchful eyes, I started touching the bottom of the pool. Each contact with the ground was followed by an immediate upward push to resurface. This gave me the assurance that I could practice treading in deep water.

Treading water is also one of the most important skills to learn. During your learning phase, it's okay if you can only tread water for 10 to 15 seconds. You can always reach for the rope or seek assistance if needed. It's natural for people to feel anxious when venturing into deeper waters, especially when they're unsure about their swimming abilities. But rest assured, you are capable enough if you can perform the dog paddle, back float, or even back float with kicks. The swimming instructors at UNSW are highly proficient, friendly, and supportive. Their program ensures you feel confident to swim in deep waters by the end of the course, given that you practice after your sessions.

Learning how to swim was just the first step for me. It was a huge step but I wanted to be able to surf, swim in the ocean and enjoy all of Sydney’s amazing water experiences. I went to a surfing event that ARC had organized and because I was no longer afraid of the water, I really enjoyed the surfing lessons. However, I was still a little anxious and afraid of the ocean. To overcome my fear of the ocean and learn how to be safe, I decided to join the Beach Ocean Safe (BOS) Program which was organized by the Health Promotions Unit in collaboration with the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club (CSLSC). The program didn't just involve swimming; it taught me about beach safety, first aid, CPR, understanding ocean conditions, water rescue techniques, and much more. You can't skip the best part of free goodies and free breakfast and lunch on every session. And of course, making some life-long friends.

Here’s a summary of what I learned:

1. Understanding different Ocean Conditions

When you pay close attention to the ocean, you can see how quickly it can change due to a variety of factors. I learned about rip currents, tides, and waves. Before entering the ocean, it is essential to have a basic understanding of how to navigate these elements safely. We also learnt how to assess the ocean's condition, how to enter safely, and what to do when a wave comes.

2. Beach Safety

There are many beach safety rules and regulations that I was not aware of. Where’s the lifeguard station situated? What's the role of the lifeguard? Why are beach flags used? What kind of risks do rip currents pose? What should you do if you get caught in a rip current, too? My one tip: Always swim between the red and yellow flags!

3. Water Rescue Techniques

We learnt how to approach someone in need in an emergency, perform a water rescue safely, and offer support in the water. Most importantly, we learnt how to assess a situation and respond effectively.

4. First Aid & CPR

We also learnt first aid and CPR so that in an emergency we know what to do. A basic understanding can save someone’s life!

We continue to learn throughout our lives, but in order to make learning more interesting, we need to make the learning process more enjoyable. If you know how to swim, you should also try surfing (it is so much fun!). You could also give kayaking a try; it was one of my best experiences ever. Once you feel comfortable in the water, you begin to enjoy all that it has to offer.

Cohort at Beach Ocean Safe Lesson

Now after a long but incredibly rewarding swimming journey, I teach children in school programs and take adult Learn to Swim classes. Being a recent learner myself, I can empathize with their fears and teach them effective ways to manage their anxieties around water. As a swimming instructor, I've had the opportunity to help others learn an essential life skill, make new friends, and stay active, all while enjoying the process. So, that's my journey with swimming.

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