A Dive Into the Deep End – Emotionally

Adults Dive

A Dive Into the Deep End – Emotionally

A sight common to many pools in America is, in fact, surprisingly uncommon in New York City. On a weekday night in a well-lit indoor facility in Downtown Brooklyn, adults, new to swimming or getting back in the water after a substantial time away, confront their fears and lack of swim experience.

That it’s challenging for adults in the country’s largest city to find entry-level swim classes has to do with a variety of factors, not the least of which is a lack of pool time. There’s also the impact of Covid-19, which for 18 months shuttered pools throughout New York—already ranked last in the country among major cities for public aquatics facilities. The pandemic also disrupted lifeguard training throughout the five boroughs, resulting in a lingering shortage.

We Need MORE Swimming in Brooklyn

Despite these hurdles, on an otherwise unremarkable evening in December, a group of seven adult learners are at the Long Island University pool. Most have been coming twice a week since before the Thanksgiving holiday, striving to acquire a skill that some believe should be universal. That it’s not causes needless heartbreak for those whose loved ones are drowning victims—mostly young boys and, more likely than not, people of color.

This particular night, I watch as swimmers take turns jumping into the pool’s deep end. With three instructors treading water and lead instructor Otis Alves—a preternaturally calm presence—on the pool deck, participants tiptoe to the pool’s edge and confront a shimmering expanse of water that’s nine feet deep.

There are various approaches to a plunge into the waiting arms of instructors. One participant jumps right in, secure that she’ll bob up and paddle to safety mere feet away. Others are hesitant; a forty-something man, tall with the physique of a weightlifter, goes in feet-first and sinks straight to the bottom. He’s immediately helped to the surface, then guided to the pool wall, tightly held by an instructor’s grip.

One stands for a full two minutes contemplating her fears; despite Alves’s soothing support she steps back, crying. Another swimmer goes in, then another. Finally, the fearful woman gathers her courage and is helped gently into the water. Her tears mingle with the chlorinated water as she is gently bobbed to the wall and climbs up to the pool deck, an individual success for a group whose collective faith transcends the brooding fear of the deep end.

It’s inspiring, and I’m moved by these acts of courage. But my enjoyment is tempered by a nagging sadness that won’t quite go away. As I watch lessons meant to drown-proof these folks, I’m reminded that a dear friend might still be alive if only he’d been given the same opportunity.

A Life Stolen By the Water


Photo Courtesy: Young Rock Soccer Academy

Magnus Murkoro was as upbeat as anyone I’ve ever met. An accomplished soccer player with boundless energy, Magnus co-founded Young Rock Soccer, a kids’ program operating on the Brooklyn Tech field just blocks away from the Barclays Center. I first met Magnus and his partner Musa Kadiri in 2008. My daughter’s classmate was a Young Rock member, and I was looking for a club where my kid could learn the world’s game.

From my first introduction, I was taken by Magnus’s generous spirit. He was mindful of all the kids in the club, and they reciprocated with spellbound attention. He ran practices with the zeal of a child masquerading as an adult, and his drive to make the club practical, worthwhile and sustainable pulled in many parents, including me. I regularly volunteered to organize practice or help coordinate matches. Soon I was seeking out sponsorships and helping to arrange for clinics in schools and local community centers.

We became close, his two children overlapping in age with my son and daughter. Even though we didn’t socialize that much, I felt that Magnus was as reliable a friend as any I had. So, when Musa called me on a summer afternoon in July seven years ago to say, “Magnus is gone,” I can say that I wept like I hadn’t in a long time.

The circumstances of his death trickled in slowly. While on vacation in Canada, Magnus and his family went to a home with a backyard swimming pool. No one realized that he didn’t know how to swim until it was too late; guests thought Magnus was playing around as he lay on the pool’s bottom. By the time he was reached it was too late; a strong, athletic, 44-year-old stolen by the water––because he didn’t know how to swim.

A Quiet Moment of Celebration


Photo Courtesy: Michael Randazzo

The swimmers at LIU have finished their dives and are gathered on the pool deck, chatting amongst themselves, punctuated with occasional clapping or pats on the back. Their delight is palpable; collectively, they’ve just conquered fears that in some cases have persisted for decades. I’m tempted to join the scrum; as the organizer of this session, which has been years in the making, I have pride of ownership. Yes, this works! I’m delighted that many want to continue. One aspires to become regular lap swimmers at their local community center. Another hopes to be able to swim with his wife, a reward of their shared retirement.

I hesitate for a moment. Should I jump in? They’re so happy, while I’m pondering how this, to me, clearly apparent need—getting everyone to swim—doesn’t always benefit those who need it most.

In that moment I’m paralyzed by a bittersweet swirl of emotions. The opportunity may have been too late for some, but, now that it exists, the possibility of saving a life—any life—from death by drowning is such that I force a smile of relief and feel the joy that these swimmers now associate with water.

Drowning Statistics

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x