Thought Leadership

Learning to swim

By Colin Walls

Being “middle-aged” is not so bad – that is my conclusion. For a long time I resisted this description of my temporal status in life, but I have now seen the light. We talk in terms of people being “young”, “middle-aged” or “old”. I have figured out that these labels really apply to someone’s frame of mind and are not connected to specific ages. A young person is planning and dreaming – looking ahead to their life and all the things they might do. An old person [whom I think of as someone 20+ years older than me] is likely to be looking back on their life, hopefully with a sense of satisfaction about achievements and lessons learned. A middle-aged person still has plans and dreams, but they are likely to be taking action with a sense of urgency that they lacked in youth.

I have been dabbling with all kinds of new stuff: glass blowing, stained glass making, drawing, blacksmithing, archery and flying a plane are just a few examples. But I have also been learning to swim …

It may seem surprising that someone could get to my age and not really be able to swim, particularly as I was raised near the ocean. I had swimming lessons as a kid, but somehow they just did not work. I have clear recollections of a very cold outside pool, where we had early morning lessons. I have always enjoyed being at the seaside, walking on beaches and paddling in the sea, but felt that I was missing out. For a lot of my life I did nothing about it; my late wife was very similar, so I felt no great incentive to act. My current wife, however, is a competent swimmer and enjoys pools and the sea on vacation. I wanted to join in. So, I took action …

I found a teacher who would give me one-to-one lessons. She saw nothing odd in my wanting to learn at my age – I was a long way from being the oldest pupil she has taught. Over time, I have learned a lot. I am infinitely more confident in the water and positively enjoy being in a pool or the sea. I still have more to learn and areas of my confidence to enhance, but I am getting there. A key thing is not just taking lessons, but putting in the time to practice.

The need to practice has resulted in a change of lifestyle really. Nowadays, I get up quite early most mornings and go off to swim. I started out by going to a nearby spa club, where there was a good size, well heated indoor/outdoor pool. By going in the early morning, there are few other people around and I can practice reasonably undisturbed. A surprising benefit of this activity is social. Although it is quiet in the spa in the early morning, there are a few other regulars whom I have got to know and that adds to the enjoyment [and helps me get out of bed when it is cold and icy outside!].

The only problem with the spa pool is that it was not really made for swimming, so it is a bit too hot and not a good shape. I mentioned this someone with whom I was chatting one day. She said that she thought that there was a private pool in another part of the town, which the owners allowed people to use. When I got home, Google did its usual magic and I quickly had the email of the owners. We soon talked and they do indeed let friends and family use their lovely indoor pool. The system they use is that one can book an hour of exclusive use and pay a small sum per head, which they donate to a local charity. So, that is where I go a couple of mornings a week. There are many advantages of having a good pool to oneself [or it may be just my wife and I].

When I am traveling, for business or pleasure, I will always be on the lookout for places with swimming pools. We like to take at least one vacation each year by the sea, but otherwise a nice pool is always welcome. I doubt that I will ever become a really accomplished swimmer, but that was not my aim. My goal was to be able to enjoy the water instead of being afraid of it. I think I can largely claim: mission accomplished.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at