By Melissa Wagoner
Diane Brooke likes everything about swimming.
“[I]t makes me feel so joyful and good,” she explained. “The feeling of being in the water and weightless – it feels kind of magical. Swimming and flying are kind of similar – and flying is magical if you think about it.”
A swimmer from an early age, Brooke took lessons at the local pool in her small hometown in Pennsylvania. Then, when she was still a year away from the age required, she snuck into the junior lifeguarding classes and started what would become a 40 year lifeguarding career.
“I love swimming so much,” she laughed. “I love swimming outdoors. I like to go into big waves and dive into them. I’ve wrecked two cellphones because when I see water I just jump in like it’s calling me.”
A swim instructor for 30 years, Brooke knows the ins and outs of learning to swim and has even studied water births with a midwife in order to learn more about where it all begins. Her recommendation is that parents start their children early in lessons – as young as three months old.
“Watch the teacher before you pick one out,” she advised. “A good teacher tells a parent what they’re doing so they can practice. And do it as a fun thing – don’t only take swimming lessons.”
For those who are learning to swim a bit later in life, Brooke suggests private lessons.
“Get a good one,” she urged. “I cannot stress enough to get a good one. And be brave – do positive affirmations.”
Another great way to get used to the water is through water-based exercise classes like Aquacise, according to fellow swimmer Kathleen McCann.
“The Aquacise class creates a nice atmosphere for people to test the waters and meet new friends while exercising,” McCann explained.
No matter the swim level, McCann stresses that it’s never too late to start.
“Swimming is for everybody,” she said. “Many people I’ve met are swimming as part of their therapy after surgeries or accidents. I swam through my pregnancies. Water supports the body in a unique way.”
For McCann, who began swimming when she was seven at the neighborhood swim club, swimming has been a great way to get exercise and keep her body in shape.
“I’ve been swimming laps for 46 years,” she recounted. “I swim several times a week all year-round.”
Brooke also swims during all seasons, but – unlike McCann – much of her swimming is done outdoors, even in the winter months.
“I often think the pool water is too warm,” she confided. “I’m a polar bear, that means I go in cold water.”
Brooke, who spent her career working in parks and recreation, has lived all over the country – and swam all over the country too.
“I swam with dolphins once,” she shared. “That was in Hawaii. That was very exciting.”
Although Brooke knows that outdoor swimming can be dangerous – for her that is part of the appeal.
“I worked for the National Parks Service in the Everglades and I swam where there could be water moccasins,” she remembered. “And I’ve never been afraid of sharks because that would really wreck my time in the ocean.”
Although a mostly solitary sport, swimming can also have a social side and Brooke enjoys swimming with friends whenever she can.
“I’m the only big swimmer in my family, but I find friends,” she said. “You can have a swimming buddy just like you have a buddy runner.”
It is also a sport that – unlike many high impact sports – can be life-long. “I’m 62 and still do it,” Brooke smiled.
“I think it’s important to learn sports for life,” McCann added. “A physical practice that doesn’t need a team or a coach with a clipboard.”
Silver Falls YMCA Pool
601 Miller St., Silverton
Silver Creek Reservoir
4381 Silver Falls Drive NE, Silverton