At the age of 4, during a friend’s party, held at the local swimming pool, I went under. Bemoan to me, this experience would change my life.
Before I went to the party, I had never been in a pool before. My family are non-swimmers. It was unknown territory. At the age I was, I didn’t really think much of it. I wasn’t really thinking much about it when the party started. There was one moment I’ll never forget though.
I was on top of a float enjoying life, and then suddenly, someone wasn’t happy. Another child pushed me off the float, and with no-one noticing, I was fighting for my life.
I remember the moment a tad too well. I went under with no knowledge of how to float or swim. I was in a situation where it could have been fatal. It nearly was. Without the incident happening next to the ladder in the corner of the pool, I’m not sure I’d be writing this post.
It’s an overwhelming feeling thinking back to that moment. It wasn’t just a moment. It was an experience I wouldn’t be able to push aside.
Recalling the time my school went for swimming lessons; I can’t remember how long after, I was panicking. It was the same pool I nearly drowned in. Even with an instructor, I didn’t feel comfortable. I was FAR out of my comfort zone. Add some floats around my arms, and I still wasn’t happy. I didn’t get back in the pool thereafter at school. I just couldn’t. It was all too much for me. No-one really knew about it. My school friends believed I didn’t want to go in; which was right, but for different reasons to what they thought.
My childhood led to invitations to other swimming parties, beach trips and a lot of activities involving water. I really did fear water after my near drowning experience. I was scared. I was too scared for a repeat. It was haunting. I was having nightmares. Every time I was close to water, flashbacks appeared. Imagine going through this as a child?! My life was at a standstill. I was missing out on opportunities. I was losing friends. They didn’t know what happened, as I was too scared. I was more content in losing the friends, rather than being judged.
One person changed this though. When I was 9, a 6 week year old Springer Spaniel named Flash came into my life. He came into my life when I really needed it. He was my best friend. He’d make me smile. I’d run home from school knowing he was there. He was there, when out of nowhere, my life continued to challenge me.
When I was a teenager, my Nan passed away. We were very close. Before Flash came into my life, my Nan was my rock. I’d go visit her every weekend, knowing there’d be some pink wafer biscuits and a glass of milk waiting for me.
It hit me hard when she passed. I’m not sure I’ve fully gotten over it. I wish she was here. I wish she saw me grow up. I feel her here. She’s always been in my heart. But, sadly, when she passed, it was a period where my Mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and my Sister had a stroke. *Cue the tears*
It’s always hard talking about this period of my life, as it’s also my most influential period. Any time I think back to my childhood, I get upset, but also motivated.
Fast forward to 2016…
Two days after I left my job, and hmy heart on leaving for London, Flash suffered a stroke. I was woken up by a very upset Dad at 6:30am, telling me to get downstairs immediately. A few weeks before this happened, I could see Flash slowing down. I had a feeling something may happen. I wasn’t prepared for it though.
Flash wasn’t just a pet to me, he was my best friend. He was my brother. During the hardest moments, he was there. He’d snuggle up with me when I was sad. I knew he was there for me. I knew I had to be there for him. I walked into the front garden, and he was just lying there. I remember looking at him in the eye, knowing I had to be there. He was there for me.
Flash’s true impact
When everything was going on in my childhood, I wanted to commit suicide. I had enough of life. I didn’t deserve to be going through what I was. I had thought of ways to end my life. Flash was the reason I didn’t go through with it. It was his smile that saved my life. He reminded me that there was people in my life that loved me. I couldn’t leave him. I was there until his last breath (where’s the tissues?!).
I had to continue his legacy
When I left him with the Vet, the next chapter of my life began. I headed to the gym, got some anger out and vowed to use his love for me to go and help others with our story. This part of my life was never MY story, it was OURS.
I only had one thought. My fear of water was going to be the way I can use his legacy to help others.
21 years after nearly drowning…
I reached out to Wessex Swim School. I needed help. I was shivering at the prospect of getting in the pool, but having worked on a few events with Rees Leisure Ltd; the company behind Wessex Swim School, I had trust in them. I believed they were the people who’d turn my 21 year fear into a form of influence.
So much so, that 2 days after agreeing to work with them, I was attending my first swimming lesson. I was 100% confident I wouldn’t get into the pool in my first lesson. I believed I’d sit by the pool, kick my feet on the edge, and that’d be it.
To my amazement, my head went under, I was kicking (floats included) and the new chapter had begun. Wessex Swim School instantly made me feel comfortable. Thanks to the comfortability, I was already pushing myself. This chapter wasn’t just about my fear of water, it was remembering those I lost.
Every kick, every breath, it was for everyone in my life; past and present. This wasn’t just my chapter, it was everyone’s. When I felt I couldn’t do anything, I’d remember the impact my Nan and Flash had on me, and how doing this will inspire more people to conquer their fear. I also wanted a life without limitations.
I had the fear of water for too long. I wanted to finally say I wasn’t scared anymore, and to just live my life. I want to go Paddleboarding and Kayaking. I want to go in the sea when I’m at the beach. I didn’t want to feel scared anymore. I’m John Sennett! I can do anything I put my mind to and this was going to another achievement in my life.
The coach I thought I didn’t want…
Emma’s properly thanking me for that comment. Emma is the Lead Instructor at the lessons, and I was sort of scared of her. I knew she’d really get me going. I’ve never really gotten on with people like this, and Emma became my 1-2-1 instructor in week 2!!!
I remember panicking thinking Emma was going to be strict, and she sort of was, but she’s incredible. Week 2 and I was floating!! Yep! I instantly felt so comfortable around Emma and trusted her, that I learned to float.
For someone who has had a fear of going under for so long, this is one of my greatest life achievements and one of the happiest moments of my life.
Come on, John! You’ve got this!
As each lesson finished, I was gaining momentum. I was growing in confidence. Less floats were used. I was learning to front crawl (have never managed this in my life). I was learning more about breathing underwater. I was taken out of my comfort zone every lesson, and that spurred me on.
I hate being in a comfort zone. I want to experience the unknown. Emma accommodated this into every lesson. Despite after sporting activities happening, she ensured that whilst I felt comfortable in the water, I was also progressing.
Age is just a number.
Every lesson I attended, there were children learning in the lanes next to me. Some adults might feel uncomfortable with this, but we need to remember that people learn at different stages in their lives. Certain life situations i.e. my near drowning experience, can turn people off. Some people just don’t want to learn. Others do, but are scared to start.
I wanted the children to know this. I wanted them to see an adult using floats. It’s natural. Not everyone is comfortable in water. Some people don’t have access to lessons when they’re a children.
Part of this experience was to inspire more people to learn to swim; adults and children. I’m opening up about my story to share with you all that you can do it, but don’t rush! Do it when you feel ready; even if it’s just a tiny bit.
We all have different motivations to get in the pool, and I highly recommend you use them. My Nan, Flash, my Mum and Sister’s battles; they’ve all been motivations.
(I also had a feature in Swimming Times, regarding learning to swim as an adult)
The “impossible” happened
Between my 1st and 10th lesson, I somehow managed to swim independently. I never went into this wanting to be an amazing swimmer. I just wanted to feel comfortable in water.
One lesson, Emma turned to me and said she wasn’t going to get in the pool. She had a slight injury. I panicked. I started to overthink. Emma took me in the lane with the bar on the side, so I had the support if I needed it. It was time. I had to trust myself. I couldn’t rely on anyone now. It was just me and the pool.
It’s one thing taking away the floats, but when it’s just you, it’s a different story. We introduced the push start to build my confidence being on my own. As I felt confident bringing my arms over my head, we gradually increased the distance. As I stepped back, another arm would come in. This is where I struggled. Breathing was never my strongest point. I think even though I was progressing, all it took was a flashback to push things back.
I learned my fear was natural
Having a fear is natural. When I spoke about having flashbacks, I know I’ll probably continue to have them for the rest of my life. You don’t forget a near death experience. But, I want that experience to be a memory. I now want to create new ones.
When I understood this, I just forgot about things. I just put things aside and got on with things. I was ill or unable to attend a few lessons, but that didn’t set me back.
I conquered my fear
I ended my lessons, knowing I had conquered my fear. I could tell you what happened in all of my lessons, but we’ll be here for years.
You can imagine that it was my comfortability with Emma, and the confidence and trust she had in me that really helped me to conquer my fear. She also taught me that I always had it in me to conquer it. All I needed was to find the trust in someone to be able to trust myself.
It’s thanks to Emma and Wessex Swim School that I can now go live my life without worrying about a fear of water. The fear was with me for 21 years. That’s a long time. Yet, within around 12 lessons, the fear is no more.
If you’re looking to learn, do so. If you’re in Hampshire or Wiltshire, I highly recommend Wessex Swim School.
I’m always around if anyone wants some advice or some motivation to start your journey in the pool.
Nan, Flash, I want to thank you both for being part of my life and for inspiring me to take on this new chapter. Not a day goes past where I don’t think about you both, and when I was in the pool, you were my inspirations.
Because of you both, I’m still alive. I have the opportunity to continue motivating others to step outside their comfort zone, and it’s because once a upon a time you graced my life, that i’m now able to help others.
I love you. I miss you. Thank you.