The Swim Girl: Instructor helps adults face fears and learn to swim
Talamieka Brice, 27, wept in March when her husband, Sgt. Charles Brice, was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. She misses him terribly, but she isn't just sitting around waiting for his return.
Both husband and wife made a vow that they would reunite in better shape than before his departure.
"We wanted to be as emotionally and physically healthy as we can be," she said.
So Brice made a checklist of things she would do before her husband's expected return next year. She enrolled in CPR classes. She's training to run a half marathon. And she's learning to swim.
"I figured if he can fight a war, then I can get some things accomplished," she said.
Learning to swim as an adult can be challenging, but there are several swim classes available for grownups in the Jackson metro area, including the YMCAs and Ridgeland's Maley Swim School.
Many are also turning to Jackson resident Laura Uecker, a.k.a. The Swim Girl, who runs a modernized part-time swimming business that marries traditional teaching techniques with high-tech capabilities. You can find her at TheSwimGirl.com.
Uecker films clients underwater so they can view and perfect their technique. Her business motto is: "It's never too late to learn."
While some of her clients are athletes training for triathlons who want to learn to swim properly, Uecker said a third of her clients are adults who can't swim, a factor that can prove dangerous.
According to the Center for Disease Control's latest statistics, in 2005, there were 3,582 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging 10 deaths per day.
This month, rescue workers recovered the body of 16-year-old Steve Blanchard from the Leaf River, who accidentally drowned while swimming near his east Hattiesburg home.
Many adults who come to Uecker, 35, are terrified of the water, she said. "I think it's the breathing," she said. A lot of people have a panic feeling when their mouth is underwater, plus there's all these people swimming around you, and you don't know if you will be able to get air. I work on having them relax and trust the water. They are very trusting of me, so it's rewarding for me to see them accomplish something that they've been scared about since they were kids."
That's how Jackson resident Bebe Sumner, 44, felt when she began taking classes with Uecker. "My mother was fearful of water and never let us get in it," Sumner said Thursday after her second lesson at the Lakeland Courthouse Aquatic Center pool. "People don't realize how many adults don't know how to swim properly."
Sumner started running when she was 38 and competed in the Baltimore Marathon in October. Hoping to eventually try a triathlon, she knew she had to learn to swim.
"I think when you reach your 40s, you want to achieve everything that you can in this lifetime," she said. "After I completed my marathon, I knew I could push myself to do this. I wanted to set a good example for my children, letting them know they can achieve anything they want if they just put themselves out there."
Madison resident Floyd Mobley grew up the country. He and his friends frequently played in ponds and sometimes splashed in the Pearl River, but he couldn't swim.
"I could just dog paddle a little bit," he said. "I didn't feel like I could swim with any proficiency. I never felt that confident in the water, and wanted to learn to do it the right way."
At age 72, after retiring as the editor of the Electric Power Association's Today in Mississippi newsletter, Mobley began to feel like he was stagnating. So he decided to enroll in swim classes with Uecker.
"I had also taken up golf again after 40 years and was doing more hunting and fishing," he said. "I was catching up on things that I wanted to do, and swimming was one of those things. I've come a long way, and I feel more confident in the water now."
Wearing a red Speedo swim cap with goggles perched atop, Uecker stood chest-deep in a narrow isle of the Courthouse pool Thursday morning. She leaned to the left, and so did her client, John Nowell, 35, of Jackson, who mimicked her motions, learning to properly swim for future triathlons.
Sunlight beamed through the window behind Uecker, who positioned her client's head, then his shoulder, helping perfect his technique.
At age 5, Uecker joined the Hanging Moss summer league swim team, and it wasn't long until a coach realized she had greater potential. She later swam for Sunkist, a local team that competed yearround, and her participation led to a full scholarship at the University of Florida.
Uecker earned a master's degree in education with the intention of teaching elementary school, but her plans changed when she was hired as the aquatics director at the Courthouse gym.
"I worked there nine years and was in charge of all the pool programs, swimming lessons and hiring all the lifeguards," she said.
Today, she spends most of her time taking care of her family, including husband Dave and sons Joseph, 5, and Stephen, 2. But in her spare time, she's The Swim Girl.
"I just gave it a go, and it's really working," she said. "I teach twice aweek. It's mostly word of mouth."
Meanwhile, Brice is feeling more confident and hopes to swim before her husband's expected March return.
"It was definitely a fear I avoided, and I had gotten to the point that I was kind of complacent," she said. "His deployment exposed a lot of fears, and I am learning that no matter what life throws you, you are going to be OK. You just learn to make the best of it."
Brice describes Uecker as an "anchor."
"She creates an environment that is relaxing," she said. "It's like you overstep an obstacle without even thinking about it. As soon as I could relax, I could float. And that's kind of what I've learned. No matter what kind of life's waters you are thrown into, relax."