Learn to Swim: Save a Life

4 News4jax employees conquer their fears

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – 4 News4jax employees share their inspiring stories about how they learned to swim. 

"It's something I've kind of been embarrassed about for a long time, not knowing how to swim and living in Florida all my life, explained Julian Hernandez, a news producer who works here at Channel 4.  Hernandez nearly drown when he was 6 years old and says he's had an irrational fear of the water ever since.  Although, he did take swim lessons when he was 11 or 12 years old, 'it wasn't a good experience," he said.

Hernandez took a group swim lesson, with another co-worker, Harold Jackson.  "I used to live in Hawaii, an island surrounded by water, you would think I'd have learned by now, but I haven't," said Jackson. 

Hernandez is engaged, Jackson is newly married, both said they wanted to learn to swim for their partner.  If she or a child ever got into trouble in the water, they want to be able to save them.

Kenson Gilles, 38-years-old, drowns in Tampa pool as he played with his daughters. He had never learned how to swim.
Kenson Gilles, 38-years-old, drowns in Tampa pool as he played with his daughters. He had never learned how to swim.

They enrolled in a group lesson that meets everyday for an hour for 8 classes.  As part of the class, they also learned how to save someone from drowning, without ever getting wet by using a pool noodle, their arms, anything they can find around a pool to reach a swimmer in distress from the side of the pool.  They also learned how to convert jeans into a life vest in case they are ever thrown into the water, from a boat or canoe. Once removed, the jeans can be tied off at each leg and then filled with air.  See demonstration in video.

After 8 classes, Hernandez and Jackson could swim the entire length of the pool and jump into the deep end. 

Robert Brown's story:

"If someone I love is in a predicament, I want to be able to save them.  I want to be able to react.  I don't want to be vulnerable.  It's important," said Robert Brown about the decision he made to learn to swim.

Brown, 26 years old, said he never learned as a child and nearly drowned when he was 12.  While it made him frightened of the water, he admits he would still go in the ocean, up to his knees, and would stand in the shallow end of pools.

"I just wouldn't go deep," he explained.  Brown knows it was not a good idea to take those risks, he admits he could not have been able to save himself if a wave had knocked him over or if he had lost his footing in the pool, "like everyone else, I just thought it would never happen to me," he said.

Brown also knows several non- swimmers have drowned in our area, Brown produces the 7am newscast for The Morning Show, so he is well aware of the dangers involving water.

Kenson Gilles, left, never learned how to swim.  He was playing in the shallow end of a community pool near his Tampa home with his two young daughters when he lost his footing as he walked towards the deep end.  The 38-year-old drowned.

Although he was nervous about taking his first swim lesson, he said, "I am excited, but mostly apprehensive.  But the part of me that wants to learn is beating the part of me that's apprehensive."

Taking 8, one hour classes at the Williams YMCA in Mandarin, Brown was able to learn to swim.  He took a group lesson with another News4Jax co-worker, Micah Barnes. 

Micah Barnes' story:

"Other than the shower, I pretty much avoid water all together," explained Micah Barnes, a news video editor here at News4Jax, before taking his first swim lesson.

Barnes, 29, nearly drown when he was 10 years old, and has been terrified of the water ever since.

"I was jealous seeing other kids swimming in the pool and I had never learned to swim, but I just decided that day that I was going to teach myself.  So, I jumped in the pool and I started to sink, I just started seeing legs and ankles," said Barnes, describing his near drowning.

"My dad saved my life that day," remembers Barnes.

"One of the first things I tell an adult when they get in the water, if you struggle you're going to go, you're going to go down," explained Cindi Partee, swim instructor for the YMCA. "If you just relax, don't panic, no matter what happens and you will be able to swim," she added.

"Whether it's a pond, backyard pool or ocean, you're going to be faced with it.  So for an adult to say they're never going to learn, isn't possible," said Partee about the assumptions adults make suggesting they don't need to learn if they just stay out of the water.

The lessons start with the basics.  They sat on the steps in the shallow end, gradually working their way down the steps to mid-chest level in the water.

Barnes was so nervous when the lesson started, he asked to pray before it started.  He held very tightly to the edge of the pool and was even hesitant to lower himself onto the 3rd step in the shallow end.

By the end of the class, Barnes and Brown were able to swim kick to the wall in the shallow end. Barnes' anxiety had lessened. 

By the last lesson, they showed us how they could jump into the deep end of the pool and swim to the side.  Each could also swim an entire lap of the pool. 

"Anyone who has kids and their kids take a spill in the water their natural reaction as a parent or even as an adult is to rescue their child and then we're going to have two victims.  So every adult, even if they're a senior watching their grandchildren, they need to get in the water and learn to swim," explained Partee.

The YMCA offers swim lessons for children and adults of all ages.  An adult can purchase 4 private lessons, Monday-Thursday for $120 per YMCA member or $240 for non-members.  Lessons are one hour.

Click to learned more about the YMCA swim lessons or you can call the YMCA by dialing 904-265-1775.  Cindi Partee teaches at the Williams and Brooks YMCA locations.  There are several swim instructors available at all of its locations.


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