When I was younger, I took a few swimming lessons. However, only a few, and they did little to improve my swimming ability. I distinctly remember not liking them very much. This is probably because I had already experienced swimming that was very different from what I was being taught in the pool. At the age of 8 years old I was given a mask and a pair of fins, and I started to explore the ocean water of the Caribbean.
As a result of that exploration, I developed a fascination for the sea, and specifically for dolphins. I read everything I could about them. I did school projects about them. The idea of becoming a trainer at Marineland or Seaworld was at the front of my mind.
This lead one of my several life-changing experiences, spending my summer in the Bahamas, working an internship as a dolphin training and caretaker. How that internship came into being is another story for another blog, but I will simply say that it was challenging, emotional, difficult and well worth the sacrifices made.
I spent 8 weeks on a deserted island (literally) with 4 dolphins; 2 mothers and their 6-month-old babies who were too young to be moved to a new facility. I spent 16 hours a day, 7 days a week beside their ocean pen, watching them, feeding them, training and observing their behaviour. I cannot even begin to explain how much I learned from them, and how it affected my view of animals, and humans.
However, some of the most ‘magical’ moments were those that I spent in the water with them. The little ones would ‘scan’ me with their sonar. They would swim around me. And sometimes, just sometimes, they would surround me, including me in their group. The moms would be just in front of me, watching carefully to make sure their tail did not hit me. The babies would be on either side of me. We would swim for a few minutes like that, with me included in their group. They would then break formation and carry on with their day, leaving me to swim and explore on my own.
Until that point, I was definitely able to swim. I did not have the polished and graceful movement that years of swimming lessons would have created. However, I had my own way and it was effective for what I did. I was already a diving instructor at this point and spent more time under the water than on top. However, all that time spent with those four dolphins had a significant effect on how I moved in the water.
Dolphins do not only move through the water, they have a relationship with it. The beauty and grace of their movement come from that relationship. Drastic turns are made from the smallest adjustment of their fin. The raw power of their three-horse-power tail is used efficiently, gracefully and effortlessly. I can honestly say I never grew tired of watching them move.
After the internship, I decided not to pursue the dream of a career as a dolphin trainer. Without getting into details, it is easiest to say I quickly realised that the captivity of dolphins, orcas and other marine mammals is not something I agree with. Most of the feelings I left the internship with are summed up very well in the movie Blackfish.
However, the many lessons from my four instructors have remained with me all these years later, and their main lesson regarding swimming has become the foundation of the Global Swim program as it works to help make diverse communities safer. And that lesson is: