The most successful British female swimmer of all time has just announced her retirement from the sport.
Rebecca Adlington is only a year older than me, and she has four Olympic medals from the pool under her belt.
In contrast, I enjoy a leisurely swim but barely have the confidence or endurance in the water to scrape a Duckling Award.
That could be one of the reasons why Rebecca is now planning to devote herself to a very specific Olympic legacy. She wants to make sure all children can swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.
And it could also help explain why qualified water therapist Stephanie Dutton still has adults come to her beautiful, spa-like pool retreat in Tring to learn the basics of the life-saving skill.
Stephanie, who first qualified as a swimming teacher in 1976, has developed a number of techniques over the years and now practises her self-created Mind/Body Awareness Programme, which features elements of holistic therapies Watsu and Ai Chi, as well as basic swim instruction for beginners or those with a severe water phobia.
Stephanie says: “I love my work, because I have practised these methods myself and I understand exactly how to make a fundamental difference to people’s ability to relax, both in and out of the water.
“I believe in it and I love working with people. I love it when I can help them achieve their goals.”
As the 59-year-old has recently returned from working and living in the USA and is now relaunching her business in Tring, I visited her to experience the unique tuition she can deliver to those who are not fully confident in water.
Stephanie guided me through the anxieties I have with swimming, and even though I am far from a complete beginner or a phobiac, we decided to go back to basics by learning how to feel comfortable with my face under water.
It surprised me how little I’ve thought about breathing while in swimming pools. I think, if anything, I hold my breath for as long as possible and that’s why I flake out before reaching 10 or so consecutive lengths.
Stephanie’s gentle and calming techniques soon made me totally at ease with breathing out through my nose and mouth under water, coming up not even short of air.
She also amazed me by teaching a simple method of floating.
It was so simple in fact that I don’t think I actually did anything, it was all about controlling my outward breathing underwater and succumbing to a feeling of near-weightlessness in the water.
Finally, Stephanie introduced me to Watsu, a water-shiatsu therapy which draws on the principles of meditation, yoga and massage.
This, Stephanie said, is suitable for anybody who is stressed, afraid of water, recovering from injury or simply in need of relaxation.
It’s easy to see how, through her bespoke programme, Stephanie has helped many overcome their crippling fears of water.
She said: “My proudest achievements are teaching a 92-year-old woman to swim for the first time, and helping my six-year-old grandson Adam benefit far more from swimming than he has managed through lessons at school.
“You can see how things spiral, people can become anxious in the water and then before you know it, they are adults who can’t swim. It is such a vital skill, and it could save your life.”
Stephanie’s specialist tuition gave me a new approach to swimming. It really is all about the ability to control your breathing, relax, and feel comfortable in the water — perhaps things that do not yet feature on the curriculum for teaching children to swim.
Hopefully, with the passion of people like Rebecca Adlington and Stephanie, this could change.
For more about Stephanie’s work, visit enjoythewater.com or call 07840 789 661.