Guest Blog: My Swim Experience

We are delighted to share the following story written by a Courthouse club member. Robert has fought the odds against a medical condition that threatened his love for swim. Together with Swim Director Jeni Rossow, Robert has made incredible gains in the water and we applaud his hard work and dedication. 


Swim lessons – many of us have had them, but many of us would not consider ourselves swimmers. Why is that? As an adult you should try again – the water can be your friend. It’s mostly a matter of finding the right instructor and then some persistence on your part.

When it comes to sports’ instruction, I consider myself well versed. Over my 68 years I’ve had just about every type of sports’ lesson that exists: tennis – yes;  golf – yes;  baseball pitching – yes;  downhill skiing – yes;  martial arts – yes; and so on..

All those lessons and all those instructors have taught me more than just the sport or skill itself. First, they taught me that self-instruction is rarely the best learning path. Second, they taught me that I can learn well from some instructors and not as well from others. Some instructors can spot the defects in my sport and give me useful instruction. Others tended to follow a structured instruction program approach and their words just never quite penetrated. They were good instructors, just not a good match for me, my needs, and my learning style. I’ve learned that the most effective instruction involves a good match between student and teacher.

My latest set of swim lessons really proves this point. Like many kids, I had swim lessons, but they didn’t take. I enjoyed the water, but I was always in survival mode and not true swimming mode. But then I saw a triathlon on television, and I loved the idea of swimming, cycling & running. I was an okay cyclist, a respectable runner, but definitely not a swimmer. So in my late 40’s I took some swim lessons. Two months later, after devoting every Tuesday night to  swim instruction and several more hours a week of practice, I was a novice swimmer. And better yet, I was soon a triathlete.

Triathlons became my world and long distance open water swimming was a special pleasure in my life. I loved the competition of triathlons, and I became a 5 time Ironman. Ironman Triathletes swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, then run a marathon. I knew that cycling and running could be hard on the body, but swimming would be a sport I could do for the rest of my life. It’s the perfect way to stay in shape as I grow older. I also learned about swim vacations – where small yachts cruise warm water coastlines and the guests ,escorted by small support boats, swim as far as they want each day. So the health and happiness of my life looked set and swimming was a key component.

Then about 4 years ago a medical condition started to destroy my inner ear and along with that, my hearing and balance. As my balance deteriorated, my swim stroke started to disappear. As swimming went from a pleasure to a struggle, I sought out instructors – eight to be exact. I was desperate. So much of my life depended on swimming, and I had lost it. I had gone from swimming 2.4 miles to swimming 25 meters. I would spend a month or two with an instructor. When I could see my swimming was not improving, I would get another instructor.

In August 2015 my medical condition plummeted. I lost all hearing in one ear and 95% in the other. My vestibular balance also crashed and consequently my balance was so poor that I walked ith a cane. Six months later in the spring of 2016,  and with the help of physical therapy, my body had learned to compensate for some of the lost balance. I no longer needed the cane. I was ready to try swimming again.

For months I tried to re-teach myself swimming. I failed. But in the back of my mind I recalled the one person who I knew could restore my stroke. Over my swimming years and through my Courthouse membership, I had occasionally worked with Jeni Rossow to improve my swim stroke. I recalled she had an uncanny eye for detecting problems and giving instruction in a way I could translate into action. So I asked Jeni, head of the Courthouse swim program, if she would take on my struggle. She accepted, and we began. That was about 4 months ago.  

She totally rebuilt my stroke. In some instances, I had to unlearn years of poor technique. In other instances, I had to learn totally new concepts. Words like breath control became a part of my new swim dialog. And we did all this with my incredibly impaired balance, which was a challenge to both her instruction and my skill. Jeni has been relentless in pushing herself to find words and techniques to identify my problems and reshape my skill. Recently, she added a new and most useful training device – a band which restricts the swimmers ability to kick. The band forces the swimmer to find their “sweet spot” in the water instead of using their kick for balance. What a key training tool this was. With this device, I learned that my body no longer intuitively sought out my sweet spot and in fact my body hardly recognized it. But the restrictive band eventually forced my body to relearn balancing in the water.

Today, I am a swimming again. I have a swim stroke that calmly moves me through the water using good form and good technique. I still have some defects, but I’m confident Jeni will find a way to remove them. I can once again envision a future that involves swimming for health, fun, and competition. I’m anxious to build my endurance and rejoin friends on the triathlon circuit. And of course, in that future, I can see a sixth Ironman award is not so far away. Thanks, Jeni!