Gerald Brown didn’t start swimming until after a near-death experience. Now, 57 years later, he’s coaching the Adult Beginner Swim Club.
At 19, Brown was accidently thrown off a dock and could not swim to safety. Friends saved him, but he avoided the water for five more years. Finally, at 24, Brown jumped back in and hasn’t gotten out since.
Brown has coached the club since 1999 at the downtown YMCA. It’s made up of adults 18 and older and the current age range is 18 to 46. Most of the club is made up of new Canadians, integrating into the North American lifestyle.
"Lots of these people have come from homes where they wouldn’t have access to a public pool at all," said Brown.
Minu Vyas is one of those people. The 34-year-old and her family moved to Winnipeg from India in August 2011. When they came to Canada, none of them knew how to swim. After they signed up for the YMCA Minu heard about Brown’s club and asked if she could join. She’s been with the club since January.
"In India, there were no opportunities," said Vyas. "So we live downtown and every day we went to the YMCA to swim with my kids, but I don’t know how to swim, so I also wanted to learn to swim, too."
Vyas enrolled her kids inswimming lessons and then staff told her about Brown and his club.
"Lots of people told me about it," said Vyas. "My husband also was learning from Gerry, so I asked him and he said ‘Yeah, OK.’ So I’m still starting."
Brown said as well as coaching his swimmers over the past 14 years, he’s helped them learn about life in Canada.
"One time one of my kids asked if I would look at a letter for him, because he couldn’t read it," said Brown. "During coffee I looked at it and it was a Visa bill. His friends had told him it was free, but not that you had to pay it off."
Though the club has stopped for the summer, it starts back up in September. Vyas will be there, and if anyone else would like to join Brown, simply come up to him at the pool. The club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
"I love it," said Brown. "I have terrible withdrawal symptoms in June when classes are over."