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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Instructor teaches central Minn. adults to swim

  • When Megan Balach teaches adults to swim, she taps into a repertoire of technique. A love of the sport. And a fear of birds.
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  • When Megan Balach teaches adults to swim, she taps into a repertoire of technique. A love of the sport. And a fear of birds.
    The three converge when the aquatics coordinator for campus recreation works with the students who must overcome their fear of the water before they can move on to mastering the basics. It once took three lessons to coax a student into the water. (Balach spent that time in the pool, talking about safety, showing how shallow the water was.)
    To relate, she conjures her own fear of birds — something she's been told might stem from seeing a bird pecking at her grandfather's prosthetic leg when she was a toddler. She has no memory of the event. But she doesn't enter pet stores alone.
    On a recent evening in St. Cloud State University's Halenbeck Hall pool, Balach exuded calm and reassurance. As the pool gurgled in the background, she encouraged an adult student to try breathing while he propelled himself forward.
    He made it about halfway across the width of the pool before bobbing up, gasping. As they continued the 30-minute lesson in the deep end, Balach remained intent on the swimmer's movements, one arm extended his direction, the other holding a green foam noodle.
    "There are three things that you can grab onto. You've got the wall right next to you, me and the noodle," Balach encouraged as the student took a few deep breaths and laughed nervously before climbing into the water.
    "Think about it. Think about it, because the other stuff is coming naturally. Now I want you to think about the breathing so it'll come naturally. Perfect. Whenever you are ready."
    Balach explained some of the mechanics (when your face comes up, your legs go down) and offered solutions (kick harder) before moving on to practice with a kickboard.
    By the end of the session, the swimmer had managed a few clean breaths — and swallowed a good bit of water.
    "It's really that reassurance and letting them know it's a safe space. I like to push their boundaries," Balach told the St. Cloud Times  after the lesson. "You can usually tell when someone's gone from uncomfortable to probably not."
    In the past 20 years, SCSU instructors have taught about 1,200 adults to swim. Fifteen of them took lessons this past semester. Not all adult swimming students are new to the sport. Some are triathletes looking to make a stroke more efficient.
    Balach, 31, who has been teaching people to swim since she was 17, most recently as an aquatics director at Twin Cities-area YMCAs, said the variety of students is part of the appeal.
    "I have kind of a permanent chlorine smell," said Balach, who is back at SCSU part time studying special education after earning a degree in community health.
    Page 2 of 2 - Variety is also part of what she likes about swimming, a sport she describes as something all ages can enjoy simultaneously. She's seen 6-month-old babies and people more than 100 years old in the pool.
    Sometimes people take lessons later in life because they want to be safe while boating, playing with their grandchildren or simply joining in the fun.
    "It's so common for people to say, 'Oh, let's go to the lake,'" Balach said.

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