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PALM LATITUDES

BEING THERE : Off the Deep End

January 16, 1994|Ruth Shaer

Underwater, I gaze at the word deep on the side of the pool. It is a moment of ecstasy. It's hard to believe it's really happening. After a lifetime of hydrophobia, I am in the deep end of a swimming pool.

I am here thanks to Paul Lennnon, head of the Glendale-based Adult Aquaphobic Swim Centers of Southern California. A former competitive swimmer and agoraphobic, he is the perfect teacher for anyone afraid of the water. "An aquaphobic feels out of control in the water," he says. "Their muscles become flexed, ready for action. This works against them."

It is early one Sunday morning at the Glendale YMCA. My first class. I'm terrified, but as Lennon speaks, my heart and stomach gradually unclench. He tells the 15 of us about his victory over agoraphobia, his love for the water. He speaks of water lyrically, as "luscious" and "creamy" and "sensual." He says we, too, will learn the joy of being in the water. He encourages us to describe the root of our fears. We become a little world of people sharing a secret, of being outsiders at pool parties, at the beach, watching others splash and laugh and play.

"Conventional training," Lennon says, "teaches locomotion, how to get from Point A to Point B in a very limited, tense way. I want to make it enjoyable."

Into the water. Lennon keeps the pool at a womb-like 92 degrees, and lessons are two hours long, time enough to adapt to what we all see as a hostile environment. We learn "passive" stroke techniques, "allowing the water to do the work," and use supporting devices Lennon has developed, like grab rails and vertical poles. Fears melt away. I float on my back in my first lesson. A small miracle.

Now, just a few weeks later, I am flipping onto my back, my front, spinning, gliding, floating. In the deep end. Swimming. Unafraid.

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