Go down to the Lagoon Pool and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA one day, and you’ll probably find Janet Lewis swimming laps. She’s been a regular face in the swimming pools every week since 1974. Not only is that an incredible dedication to her favourite sport, what’s even more remarkable is that Janet didn’t actually know how to swim until she was 28 years old.
That all changed back in 1974, when swimming champion and well-known swim coach, Morrie Doig, took her under his wing. He taught Janet how to swim, and now she regularly swims 6 to 8 kilometres of laps every week, using a variety of strokes.
“Back in those days, your parents would teach you how to swim by just chucking you in the water! I didn’t like that and I didn’t learn,” confesses Janet. The sink-or-swim style of learning definitely doesn’t work for everyone, and when (many decades later), it came time for Janet’s granddaughter to learn how to swim, the family naturally took her to Morrie.
Although swimming is largely a lonely sport, Janet has got to know all of the staff who have passed through the Lagoon Pool and Leisure Centre doors since 1974. Back in those days the centre was known as ‘Swimarama,’ and Janet witnessed them slowly add pools and other buildings to the site. During that time, she also met a few other very interesting fellow swimmers.
“I got to know some really good swimmers, some of whom had swum the Cook Strait before. They told me about how they rub themselves in grease to keep warm, and have marker boats alongside them to be on the look out for sharks. I’m afraid of being eaten though so I wouldn’t give it a try!”
In the 70s and 80s, Janet remembers, the centre ran a programme called “Swim for Life.” Essentially, the idea behind this programme was for people to clock how many laps of the pool they could do. Once they’d completed the equivalent of 50km of swimming, the National Heart Foundation and the Swimming Coaches Association would then present them with a certificate. Janet laughs, “Of course, I got lots of certificates. And they even had my name in the paper about it back in those days!” Not bad for a ‘late starter’!
Aside from building up muscle and body tone, Janet believes that swimming has been very therapeutic for her. “Swimming isn’t just physical exercise, it’s also a mental exercise that relaxes you and helps you release endorphins. You sort of forget time – it’s not boring; you just relax completely and let your mind drift away.”
Although sadly Morrie has since passed away, the legacy of teaching adults and children how to swim has continued on. Janet is proof that anyone can learn to swim, and what’s more, enjoy it. “I’d 100% recommend it. YMCA are really organised and welcoming of everyone. I always feel at home there.”