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Swimming with Animals

Originally appears in the Summer 2007 issue

The idea for developing swimming lessons based on the swimming techniques of other animals came when I was directing a camp for Native youth on a lakefront in northwestern Ontario. I was seeking water activities that would foster swimming skills but were different from the standard swimming activities that I had been immersed in as a youth. As a product of formal aquatic instruction, I have spent countless hours practicing water rescue techniques and swimming lengths to develop form and speed. Yet, even as a certified swimming instructor and lifeguard, when I’m in the water I prefer just to float around. Instead of swimming laps, I spend hours quietly bobbing around with a mask on, watching sunfish and observing the sunlight bounce off the rocky lake bottom. Fascinated by the movement of other aquatic creatures, I find myself wanting to know what it would be like to be in their bodies as they swim. I have never put on a pair of fins and not marveled at how they improved my swimming ability. I have even made myself a pair of neoprene web mitts so that I can feel more like a fish with dorsal fins. I am grateful for my swim training, but the environmentalist in me wanted to learn in a different manner, one that emphasized the skills of the water creatures I saw in the world around me. So it was as an outdoor educator that I started to develop swimming lessons that emphasize the movements of aquatic creatures.

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Zabe MacEachren is the coordinator of the Outdoor and Experiential Education program in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.