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Survival Swimming

Swimming was an important part of the training programme at this outdoor centre. A good way to assess anyone's fitness level is with some pool games or aquarobics.

Our task was to assist and motivate the swimmers. Giovanni and I dressed in our TJs (uniform tee-shirt and jogging pants) and headed for the pool.

"Where is your hoodie?" asked Leslie, the aquarobics teacher, as we came down to the pool hall. "You'll need one for this workout. Go get it." She told us that as team leaders we always had to wear the complete uniform. So we went back to our room and fetched our uniform hoodies.

Early Morning Aquarobics

In the mornings before breakfast from 6:00 to 7:00 was always something exciting to wake us up and have some wild fun. We were told to wear our red and yellow uniform jogging suits.

This was our first training session with the new guests, who arrived in the pool hall before breakfast, looking sceptical.

They were not sure what to expect, as you could tell from the way they dressed for this activity. Most wore tracksuits, some dressed in teesor hoodies with jeans or shorts, expecting a dry work out. They quickly realised they were wrong when there was no time to get changed.

Dry was not an option

This was not meant to be a dry workout as many guests thought. We assessed the fitness of new guests using aquarobics, with everybody fully clothed.

After a few warm-up and stretching exercises on poolside, like push-ups, sit-ups, and the five star body builder, Leslie sent us all into the showers.

We team leaders had to shower first in our jogging suits and explain the purpose of this. Then we had to make sure there were no dry spots on our teams. They laughed and giggled as they showered in their clothes, which is required before hopping into the pool.

Into the pool

For many this was to be their first time fully clothed in the water. They looked both excited and nervous as they went back to the pool in their dripping wet clothes.

We repeated the warm-up exercises in shallow water to give them a first experience of what difference wet clothes can make. Then we moved into chest deep water as the fast paced music started and did a sequence of exhausting fun exercises.

The instructor said that this workout gets harder the more clothes we wear, so we can adjust this to our fitness level in the days to come. She issued some hoodies from the drying room to those who wanted to try this.

Finally we did some wild contact sport games, so we would get to know each other. That was hilarious fun. Eventually it was time for a healthy breakfast.

Morning: Aquatic Survival

This session was a preparation for our outdoor events. During breakfast it was announced that for the following pool session all guests and staff should be dressed as they would for outdoor activities.

This usually means thermal underwear, long sleeve pullover and long pants or tracksuits, socks and pool shoes. They also had to wear waterproof clothes for this session, which were issued on pool side fresh from the drying room, unless they wanted to swim in their own kit.

Giovanni and I were dressed in our comfy staff uniform (yellow hoodie and polo shirt, red jogging pants, socks and clean canvas shoes). All staff were given nylon overalls, "so you don't get your clothes wet," said Leslie with a wink. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Briefing: Survival Swimming Fully Clothed

An important safety issue is to learn how to swim fully clothed, as this is part of most adventure activities. In the pool we tried on all the clothing for the wet adventures we would enjoy later.

Clothes don't weigh more in the water, but they soak up a fair bit of water which slows down your movements. Many people underestimate the drag of waterlogged clothes. Jogging suits made from heavy cotton soak up the most.

The following demonstration was designed to give everyone a good chance to experience this. We could see our guests were quite nervous with anticipation. Most of them have never worn clothes in the water, unlike the lifeguards who do this every day.

Demonstration: Heavy When Wet

Kevin, our youngest staff member (just turned 18) was asked to demonstrate what Leslie talked about. While he was dry we weighed him dressed in polo shirt, baggy jogging suit, and an oversized canoeing cagoule.

Then he slowly entered the pool in all these clothes and ducked under. He clearly seemed to enjoy this. As soon as he came out of the water we weighed him again and he was over 6kg heavier. He then had to walk twice around the pool to let most of the water drain off. Afterwards he was still 3kg heavier than in dry clothes.

Tell - Show - Try - Do

This is an effective teaching method. As instructors, we told the students what to do, then they got into the water to show them, and they tried until they could do it.

Our task as team leaders for this morning session was to get into the pool first and demonstrate each new exercise. Then we should assist our teams, about five guests for each of us.

My team cheered as I went waist deep into the pool, soaking first my shoes and socks, then my jogging pants. I put my hands down into the front pouch of my hoodie as I waded into deeper water. This staff uniform really felt great in the water. No wonder it is so popular. Then I walked back and said: "OK, guys, now it's your turn."

Slowly and cautiously they entered the water and walked into the pool until they were neck deep in the water. Some commented how interesting it felt as the water rose up inside their clothes. I suggested they put their hoods up before we all briefly submerged under water.

Then we turned around, went back to the shallow end and got out of the pool to get an idea how much waterlogged clothes can weigh, especially the heavy jogging suits.

Next we swam a few lengths and towed someone along. That was a big challenge for many guests. Not only did they have to deal with the weight and drag of their own clothes, but also of the person they towed.

Lifevests and Bouyancy Aids

Finally there was an opportunity to try out wetsuits, buoyancy aids and life vests. It was a completely different experience to swim in these and feel their specific effects. They all help to float, but in very different ways.

Wearing clothes in the water was an exciting new experience for many students. They had a chance to try out different clothes from the drying room, like hoodies, anoraks, capes and ponchos, right up to full adventure kit. Our task was to help them get dressed and then assist in the water. They all seemed to enjoy it and asked if this was a regular feature during the week. It certainly was.

Afternoon: Time Off at the Lake

The afternoon was free time for everyone to explore the area or run into town. Needing some peace and quiet, I decided to go to the nearby lake they talked about earlier.

Dressed in jeans, long sleeve pullover and a heavy hoodie, I walked off down the hill. One of the guests from Thailand, named Fung, asked if he could come along. Sure, why not.

"Do you expect rain?" I asked looking at his blue anorak.

"You never know, things can get wet quickly!" he said with a smile. I soon found out what he meant.

As we reached the lake, we sat down on a small jetty and talked about the day so far. Fung said the survival swimming was great fun and that in his home country most people swim in whatever clothes they have on. It helps them stay cool in the hot weather. Nice idea.

"Do you normally swim in clothes?" he asked.

"Yes, I do, but most people here don't. They think it's silly and then wonder why they can't cope in an emergency."

He pondered about that for a while, and then suddenly said: "Let's go swim now."

"But you didn't bring any swimming clothes." I said, looking at his jeans, polo shirt and anorak.

"Who cares! Come on!" he replied with a smile and jumped into waist deep water. He dragged my legs into the water, soaking my socks and canvas shoes, and my jeans below the knee.

I had no chance as he was quite strong and kept pulling my legs. With a big splash I slipped off the jetty into the water. As I stood up my thick wet hoodie felt very heavy. He was laughing his head off.

We splashed around for a while and I really enjoyed swimming in my jeans and hoodie. It was hard work but felt good, somehow relaxing. Fung looked great in his soaking wet anorak that glissened in the afternoon sun.

After a while we headed back to base and met Joey on our way to the pool showers.

"How come you're all wet? Where have you been?"

"In the lake for a swim." I replied.

"Make sure you take a good shower before you even think of entering the pool."

"Ay, sir!" I said with a smile.

The hot showers were a relief as they washed the cool lake water out of our clothes. We washed each other with lots of shampoo back and front. That was great fun.

Then we took our shoes off and jumped into the pool for more splashing before we relaxed in the shallow end.

Evening: Jogging Theme Party

During dinner it was announced that tomorrow's plan included a cross country run and a mudrun. So the theme for tonight's party was "Jogging" which meant hoodies, tee-shirts and jogging pants, with clean socks and sports shoes. Rainwear was optional.

After dinner we changed into cosy jogging suits and went to hang around poolside, so our teams had a chance to talk to us and have fun, which probably involved getting pushed into the pool.

It was policy at the centre that the teams bonded well and learned good team work. Little did I know how emotional this experience could get. Especially the Asian students can be very direct and personal, in a polite way. They are also very touchy-feely and probably think of staff as wet toys they can play with all day long.

Meeting Our Team

As we entered to pool hall, our team was already sitting near the deep end. We sat down with them and they eagerly started asking questions about tomorrows events.

"Where do we go tomorrow?" asked Tina.

I explained: "We'll take a walk around the lake, including a water crossing near the end of the trip. Then we come back here for a warm up shower and a swim."

"What clothes do we need?" asked Robin, who sat near the pool edge.

"Jogging suits, like you wear now." said Giovanni. "Weather will be quite warm, with some rain but no wind. No need for rainwear, that would be too warm. Maybe a poncho, if you like."

"So we better keep our clothes dry tonight, ready for tomorrow, right?" Robin asked.

"It doesn't matter." I said. "They'll dry over night in the boiler room, in the unlikely event you get soaked tonight."

"I told you so!" shouted Toby, Robin's room mate, "We can still have fun tonight." He tried to push Robin into the pool, but Robin held on to Toby's hoodie, and so they both fell into the pool. Everybody laughed as they resurfaced with the hoods over their face.

"Why are we all wearing our jogging suits tonight?" asked James.

"The party dress theme is based on this week's events," said Giovanni. "You are meant to get wet in these clothes tonight, so you get used to them. Go for it!"

"Yeah, great." our team shouted and the remaining four jumped into the pool. They all had a lot of fun bathing in their heavy jogging suits.

"You must come in too," said Robin and Toby to us as they climbed out of the pool. They quickly pushed us into the water. As we surfaced they all huddled around us and asked more questions. Tomorrow was going to be a fun day.