Ryan Trares: New swimmer finds his stroke

Run, jump, splash.

Over and over again, our little emerging swimmer tested his skills off the side of the pool.

Anthony has loved swimming since he was a baby. We’d place him in a floating tube before he could even talk, and push him around in the cool water. He’d giggle and hit the water with his hands in happiness.

More recently, he has used floaties to paddle around on his own — though his mother or I would always be right by him to help if something went wrong.

His interest in the water has been a joy to watch. Swimming was one of my favorite activities growing up; every summer day of my tweens and teens was spent in the public pool, the nearby public pond or a friend’s house with a pool. The feeling of diving under, pushing off with my legs and gliding through the cool water takes me back to my childhood, even now.

When we were getting ready for Anthony to be born, one of my commitments was to ensure that he learned to swim. The vow was more of a safety concern, as I wanted to be sure he would be able to get out of the water in case he ever fell in.

We haven’t done proper swim lessons yet. But I’ve spent each summer, and any other time we’ve had access to a pool, teaching him to paddle, kick and keep himself afloat.

Still, Anthony was reluctant to try on his own. He had to have his floats, needed to have me or his mom near him and refused to put his head underwater.

But something changed earlier this year.

It was during a spring break vacation when we spent a few days at a hotel in Ohio. Kicking around the pool, Anthony decided he wanted to try to jump from the side into the water.

I encouraged him, vowing to catch him as he jumped, though I warned him that his head was likely to go underwater. He thought for a minute, squealed in nervousness, then launched.

Dipping briefly under, then bobbing to the surface, he gasped and blinked away water. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be — would he be too scared to try again?

I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as the shock of going underwater wore off, he laughed, yelled and started paddling toward the side to do it again. And again. And again.

We’ve done a lot of swimming this summer. Anthony has started jumping further and further from the side, even doing tricks like cannonballs and can-openers as he lands. A few weeks ago, he even asked to take off his floats so he could paddle and kick on his own. His most recent accomplishment is diving underneath the water to retrieve dive sticks.

There’s a lot of work to do. We’re planning on signing him up for swimming lessons this fall, so that he can learn the correct form and strengthen his skills.

But the raw elements of a strong swimmer are there. More than that, so is the love and the joy that comes from splashing around. Those combined should carry him through the water with ease.