Yvonne Fisher, who has lived in the Algarve for 13 years, gives swimming classes to children of all ages – and the one major aspect of her classes is to encourage her pupils to know how to turn around and grab the edge of the pool – a simple manoeuvre that could so easily save their lives.
“Up until I was 40 years old, I couldn’t swim – but not for want of trying. Unfortunately, my parents had neither the time nor the inclination to teach us to swim, so I pretended I could. That resulted in a near drowning for me at the age of 11, but left me determined to keep trying. I went on to have a family of my own, making sure both of my children could swim; in fact, my son joined the local diving club, and I just watched!
Finally, at the age of 40, I resolved to change my life completely, and learning to swim was top of the list. I started with the local council, but the instructor put armbands on me, leaving me humiliated and ashamed.”
It was soon afterwards that Yvonne found Sid Shephard, who ran a company called Dolphin Swim School. Not only did they teach her to swim, they also persuaded her to train as a swimming teacher.
“I gave up my full time sales job and worked for Sid and Jean Shephard for six years before coming to Portugal. Initially I specialised in teaching adults to swim, simply because I could understand what they were going through, and still do, but I was drawn more and more into baby training, untilI developed my own methods which work so well, particularly here in Portugal where we are surrounded by pools! And I don’t use armbands!” she says.
She knows of several children who have fallen into water, but have managed to get themselves out, or at least hold on until help arrived.
“Eva, one of my young pupils, who has been attending my classes since she was a tiny baby, fell into a pool recently, and got herself out! Apart from the obvious delight these little ones give me and their parents, I hope I’ve helped a bit. If I have saved one little child from drowning, it would have been worth it!” says Yvonne.
I recently visited one of her classes, at the Lagos Marina Hotel, where her youngest attendee was just 11 weeks old. The classes are small, each child being in the arms of one of their parents and Yvonne aims to make the classes fun and interesting – for both parent and child. The toddlers are encouraged to “turn, turn, swim to mummy”, where it is amazing to see babies doing exactly that!
“All babies look upwards for bright colours and light so they know which way is up”. But don’t they swallow or inhale any of the water? I ask.
“Not at all. In layman’s terms, it’s a completely reflexive muscular action of the throat which closes the airway, preventing water entering the lungs or stomach. Much like the valve on a car tyre,” answers Yvonne.
Classes last half an hour and include singsongs as well as ‘teaching’ the toddlers to fall into the water and to turn around independently. The majority of the babies Yvonne works with learn to swim by the time they are two-and-a-half to three years old. Mandy and Dave Ware have been taking their nine month old daughter, Olivia, to swimming classes with Yvonne since she was just three months old and they are both amazed at the results. “She has even swum under water for nine seconds”, says Mandy. “It’s incredible!”
*Note from Yvonne:- this copy was written many years ago.
Archie started swimming lessons with Yvonne at 3 months. He loved it straight away, he has never cried once. Now at 9 months he is able to fall in himself from the side with confidence and that's all down to Yvonne. She is a great teacher and makes you feel at ease straight away. Blaire
(Mother of Archie Hawkins aged 9 1/2 months)
Joseph took one of the summer courses with Yvonne. At age 7, with no previous training, the 3 x 30 minute sessions gave him a brilliant foundation to work with and the confidence he needed to progress forward. You can see that the children are immediately put at ease and the results in the swimming ability are fantastic. Thank you! Victoria
My daughter Annie joined Yvonne's swimming class at around 10 months. She is now 3 years old and can now swim 10 metres in length! Yvonne is very patient and great with babies. She has a knack in making swimming fun to learn engaging the little ones and encourging them to be little fishes in water My daughter loves it! Sam
My 2 year old has been swimming with Yvonne since 10 months old. He loves the independence he has in the water that he has gained through these classes - swimming by himself to the wall, climbing out, jumping back in and swimming back to me gives him endless joy. Yvonne has been great at noticing when something isn't working and finding a new solution, for example, helping my son find his own reason for doing one of the 'exercises' instead of just being told to do so! This has been a wonderful weekly ritual in our lives, and my son asks about 'Yvonne swim class?' all week long. Lindsay
Callum started swimming classes with Yvonne at just 6 weeks old. Right from the beginning I was reassured by Yvonne's calm and professional teaching - she is wonderful with the babies! We are now a year on and Callum is completely confident in the water. He is so excited to get in the pool each week and his progress amazes me, thank you Yvonne! Karen
Yvonne is one amazing swimming teacher! Submerging your baby can, at the beginning, make a parent a bit anxious, but Yvonne’s knowledge and vast experience makes you feel completely safe. Our little Lui started to attend Yvonne’s lessons when he was 2 months old and is progressing massively after every session. He loves water and meeting ‘aunty’ Yvonne on his Saturday morning swim. Kat & Rio