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2003-03-25 A world of enjoyment floats into view for the swimmer

Earlier this year I made the decision to take some swimming lessons at my local leisure centre.

 

Swimming has always been my favourite form of exercise, and since the day I took my first lesson all those years ago down at "the Beach Hotel" in Mullaghmore (when the pool there was still an outdoor one), I have been sprouting fins.

I was instructed by Mrs Higgins (no, not Bean Uí Higí  a different Mrs Higgins), and complete with arm-bands I was normally first to cross the width of the pool. However, when I came clean to the lady and admitted that only three limbs were actually on or near the water's surface and that one had been happily hopping along the bottom all the time, we started again with a clean slate. I was never a very good cheat, you see, and always blushed like a boiled lobster whenever I was in the wrong.

I pursued my favourite sport next at Summer Hill College Pool, the Grammar School pool, and during the summer months, down the road at Markievicz Pool. I even went on to do my exams in life-saving, and worked for a time as a lifeguard at school and also during my time at college. There are many reasons why I firmly believe that everyone ought to have swimming lessons at some time in their lives.

Aside from all the obvious safety reasons, I know I am not alone in my belief that swimming is quite simply the best exercise for all round health and fitness. It is gentle on the body and a really great form of cardiovascular activity. It is excellent for people who may suffer from problems with joints, or indeed to avoid and even avert joints problems later in life, and it is ideal for an even toning of the whole body.

"So what's my excuse then?", I hear you cry! Even though I would consider myself a good strong swimmer, I took the lessons in order to correct bad habits, and to get the most out of the exercise which gives me my biggest buzz. Front crawl and back crawl are probably the best for fat-burning and fitness, though breast stroke and others have their benefits too. Of course, once you have learned to swim, a whole range of other water-sports is then open to you  boating, fishing, canoeing, yachting, white-water rafting, surfing, wind-surfing, snorkelling, diving, and being towed around a Greek island at high speed perched precariously on a `banana-boat' before being flung violently into the sea, to name but a few. Last year, I snorkelled around blue lagoons in Comino (off Malta) and in Tahiti, and the experience was like being part of a vast kaleidoscopic aquarium.

Two of my many still unfulfilled ambitions are to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and to swim with dolphins. Of course, having grown up in such a picturesque coastal county and lake district, it was possibly inevitable I was going to develop a love for water. With a very high tide, and good weather, we would literally step off the diving board at `Deadman's' in Rosses Point, or snorkel at `the Bishop's Pool' round Mullaghmore Head, or ride the waves at Connor's Island (the back strand at Streedagh), or dive off the Raughley harbour walls. I used to love when we anchored `the Dolphin' off Brown's Bay (Trá Bhuí), and we would jump off and swim ashore, swiftly followed by Mum and Dad in a dinghy with the picnic. With the tide out, we would head for the channel at John's Port (round the corner from Lissadell). The deep channel often had a strong current but we still persevered (maybe a little recklessly) and swam out to the sandbanks to join the seals who basked there. Even when we went up Lough Gill and passed a few hours exploring Church Island, we would more often than not cool off in the lake afterwards. I get such a `high' from swimming, and it gives me an exercise routine that I actually enjoy doing. Aside from that, I also know that should I ever fall off a ship, or fall from the sky from a plane, my chances of survival are perhaps fractionally higher than my non-swimming fellow passengers!