The pool’s water looked ombre, flowing navy to cerulean—deep to shallow. The 13-foot deep end felt ominous. Something about not being able to see the bottom put my stomach in knots. I tried not to look as I walked past. After all, I thought, it’s my first day of swim class—an anxiety attack really won’t do. Such was my fear of water. But in Dr. Jane Katz’s beginners’ swim class, fear didn’t seem to matter. The renowned aquatics expert and USA Swimming Hall of Famer was attuned to her students’ anxieties and knew how to work them out of us, slowly. Swimming is in her blood: Her father had almost drowned as a teen, then someone taught him to swim. Dr. Katz calls that “a gift of life” and has devoted her life to paying that gift forward. Over a 50-year career, she’s taught about 100,000 people to swim. Over a five-week period, I became one of them.
Everyone in the 10-person class did warm-ups—jogging in place, kickboard push-ups, and stretching—that made the water feel familiar. My Aquabelle one piece suit ensured I was comfy and supported during class, making the whole experience a lot easier. The suit survived every super active session, never losing its shape. After warm-ups, we learned the basics. We stuck our heads in the water, blowing bubbles with our noses. We walked across the shallow end while moving our arms in a swimming stroke. We kicked, kicked, kicked while holding onto floating boards. We “red carpet waved” with our hands underwater. The exercises seemed funny sometimes, but they were simple and assuaged my fears. “I make class fun because I know people come to me with their own worries and bad experiences with water,” says Katz. “But everything we do are building blocks for a good foundation.” By the end of the course, I found myself swimming. In the shallow end, yes, but swimming still. For entire five weeks, I’d avoided that walk past the deep end (“the navy” as I called it). But on my last day, I ditched my detour through a hallway and walked past deep end, giving it a good look. I wasn’t fearless, but I was scared. And I owe that to Dr. Katz.
Dr. Jane Katz has taught thousands of students about the benefits of water fitness at the City University of New York, since 1964. She is a professor at John Jay College in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics teaching fitness and swimming to New York City’s police and firefighters. Dr. Katz has been recognized for her work as an educator, aquatics innovator and author. Among many prestigious honors for her work is the Townsend Harris Academic Medal from her alma mater, CCNY, and award bestowed to fellow alumnus, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a member of the 1964 U.S. Synchronized Swimming Performance Team in Tokyo, Dr. Katz helped pioneer the acceptance of Synchronized Swimming as an Olympic event. Her achievements as a Masters competitive, long-distance, synchronized and fin swimmer have earned her All-American and World Masters championships.