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High number of U.S. adults can't swim

Photo: Bob McClay/KTAR
PHOENIX -- We hear the phrase 'Watch Your kids around water' all of the time. But more than 70 percent of drowning victims in the United States are adults, many of whom never learned how to swim.

Some adults in Phoenix are finding out that it's never too late to learn.

Danielle Ashley, 29, never learned to swim. "My mom tried to get me to learn how to swim as a child, so I took I don't know how many lessons. They just didn't work," said Ashley, who admits that's led to frustration.

"It's really bothered when I've gone on vacation and being limited on what I can do. I really like beach vacations, so, as a non-swimmer, you can really get frustrated not being able to play in the water like everyone else."

She isn't alone. The Centers for Disease Control said that 37 percent of adults can't swim 24 yards, which is the length of a typical recreation-center swimming pool.

Ashley decided to learn how to swim, and turned to Klaus Bolle, owner of the Bolle Adult swim school in Phoenix.

Bolle said most adults who never learn had something happen when they were a kid.

"It happens quite often that somebody pushes them underwater. They swallow water, and they get scared, and they don't want to do it again," said Bolle.

"From that day on, if it's bad enough of an experience, they avoid water, and they don't want to go there any more."

Mike Johnson, 43, said he didn't have a scary experience as a kid, but has been trying to learn to swim for years.

"I've been wanting to swim for my whole life," said Johnson. "I was in the service (U.S. Navy) and they tried to teach me there, but I never could get it. I tried private instructors and spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Never learned a stroke."

Until he came to Bolle, who said most of his customers are much older than Johnson.

"The average age of our participant is 55 years," said Bolle. "For them, most often, the reason they want to learn is that their doctor tells them 'You have to change your sedentary lifestyle. Get moving!' "

Bolle said many adults who don't learn to swim have problems getting into a swimming pool, especially if it's a public pool or a hotel.

"When they get back into the pool, they are always exposed to spectators, children, other swimmers, and 82 degree water temperature," said Bolle.

He said that any water temperature cooler than 92 degrees is too cold. "You need 92 to make them feel comfortable," said Bolle. "If you don't do that, fear and being cold is the worst combination imaginable."

Bolle promises he can teach a person to swim in five days. Ashley can verify that claim.

"We did the backstroke, the breaststroke, a little bit of freestyle. Pretty much some of everything," Bolle said.

Ashley is so confident in her swimming ability that she said, "I'm going to get online and see what type of deals I can get for (beach) vacations because I'm ready to go now."

As for Johnson, he's boarding a plane today.

"I'm going to Maui," said Johnson. "I want to do a lot of swimming. I'm going to do some snorkling, maybe even try my hand at scuba diving. I'm looking at maybe getting to surf."

You can visit the Bolle Adult Swim School Website by

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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