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Red Cross provides free swim lessons for all ages
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Drew Triplett splashes around as he gets comfortable wearing a lifejacket in 13-foot water while swim aide Anna Foster helps guide him on his way.
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Katie Roller, left, practices her stroke while Brooke Grissom gives advice during an adult swim class. Red Cross swim director Robyn Kirby says there are always openings in the adult classes and she wishes more people would take advantage of the free lessons. - photo by James Clark
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Brooklyn Ashby practices her back float under the watchful eye of swim aide Evelyn Bujok.

As a child, Jean Ware had a near-drowning experience. The result was a paralyzing fear of the water for decades of her life.

But Jean has worked to overcome this phobia. For the past three years, she’s taken advantage of free Red Cross swim lessons offered at Gilley Pool and the results have been noteworthy.

“I’m much more comfortable around the water,” said Ware, 72. “I knew how to swim when I almost drowned, but I went under and I started to panic. I wouldn’t have made it if my cousin wasn’t there to save me.”

Her comfort level around the water has improved to the point she’s now a Red Cross swim aide and is one of the many people who volunteers her time to make the program possible.

Katie Roller is another adult who has decided to fine tune her swim skills later in life as a participant in the Red Cross swim lessons.

“I could always get around but I never had any formal training,” said Roller. “I wanted to strengthen my skills and this has helped. I’ve already made progress in just a few days. An hour’s worth of swimming a night will wear you out.”

The summer swim program is nearing the end of its second, two-week session. Red Cross swim director Robyn Kirby says participation plunged this year by more than 100 swimmers, but that’s not entirely bad.

“Those who are here are getting more one-on-one attention so that’s a benefit to them,” said Kirby. “That’s the positive tradeoff to there being lower attendance.”

Kirby said 364 swimmers registered in all, down from 480 last year.

“I heard from a lot of people who said they were disappointed they missed sign-ups, but they can start getting it in their minds for next year,” said Kirby. “This is such a great life skill and you never know when you might need to use it.”

Cameron Jones echoed those comments. He’s been a swim aide for three years and he’s working this year for the first time as a swim instructor.

“What are you going to do if you get caught in a situation where there’s nothing to float on?” Jones asked.

It’s been a unique year for Kirby in that her own son, Jackson, is taking lessons for the first time as a 6-year-old.

“He’s not interested at all in putting his face in the water, but he’ll get there,” said Kirby.

Swim lessons are traditionally held the last part of June and first part of July and are open to all ages 6-and-up free of charge.