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Lessons for a lifetime

Red Cross swim lessons taught for first time in renovated Morris pool

Margaret Ascolani doesn’t remember much about the swim lessons she took at Morris pool as a kindergartner in 1999.

Just the icy water.

“It was always so cold early in the morning,” Ascolani said. “It was always hard to pay attention.”

Now an instructor in the program, Ascolani said the first year of Red Cross swim lessons in the newly renovated pool are an improvement.

“It’s quite the upgrade we got here,” Ascolani said. “They’re much more comfortable.”

On Wednesday, as the temperatures pushed 90 degrees before lunchtime, the second session of swim lessons was nearing completion.

Ascolani and the other instructors guided the students — ranging in age from 4 years old to 13 — as they practiced their leg kicks and dead man’s float.

The program has two sessions — in June and in July — with participants going for lessons Monday through Friday for two weeks, learning both how to swim and general water safety.

According to Joanne Engle, who runs the swim lessons, the two weeks serves as a strong base of swimming ability.

“You’d be surprised what two weeks of doing the repetition can do,” said Engle, former head swim coach at Morris Community High School and current assistant coach.

The safety lessons include learning how to use life jackets and common sense tips, such as not swimming in the river.

“A lot of it is about safety,” Engle said.

That’s especially important considering Morris’ location on the Illinois River, she stressed.

With the flooding in April, the lessons also discussed why you should not swim in the river.

“Water safety is important for all kids, even those who don’t have a pool,” said Ascolani, who also teaches private lessons.

But most of the time, the focus is on swimming.

“Swimming is something you can enjoy your whole life,” Engle said. “It’s a good form of exercise. It’s fun.”

As they went about their lesson in the mid-summer heat, the kids did seem to be enjoying themselves, whether they were floating face down, practicing their kicking or just splashing each other between drills.

“Nothing makes me happier than seeing a child swim on their own,” Ascolani said. “It’s great because this is something they’ll be able to use the rest of their lives.”

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