When the visiting swim instructor asked for a volunteer to demonstrate a streamlining technique, Jamirra Dunlap shot her hand in the air even though she only recently began to learn how to swim.
Dunlap, 13, was just as interested in testing her new skills as she was impressing the instructor — 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps — who, on Wednesday afternoon at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, conducted a short clinic for inner city middle school children in his hometown.
“He gave everybody else a handshake, but I got a hug,” Dunlap said with a smile as swim lessons resumed following Phelps’s departure. “I don’t really know how to swim right now, but I hope I learn.”
Sparking that desire was one idea behind Phelps’s visit, the first event in a partnership between the Michael Phelps Swim School and Baltimore City Schools. He said he wanted the 40 students who ringed the shallow end of the indoor pool to be “comfortable, safe and confident” in the water and consider swimming a way to have fun and make friends.
“Even before I was on the swimming team, I was always around the pool,” Phelps said in an interview afterward. “I was playing, I was running around, a hyper little kid. I was able to meet friends and keep friends throughout my life that I learned from swimming and being around the pool.”
Many of the budding swimmers, all of them taking summer classes at Beechfield Elementary with a two-week unit on swimming, were at the introductory level of the sport. When they demonstrated their skills for Phelps — going under water, kicking — they were instructed by their coaches to keep a hand on the wall at all times for safety.
Phelps could relate to that tentativeness and told them that he first learned to swim on his back because he feared putting his face in the water, a stage that many of the swimmers on hand are at now. So when he swam almost the entire length of the pool without coming up for air, that made an impression.
“He said he never felt comfortable putting his head in the water,” said Darrell Session, 13, who got to loan Phelps his goggles for that swim. “But he got over it. When he tried it, he liked it.”
“He swam all the way from here, to all the way down there, like a dolphin,” said Justein Chavis, 15. “It was like he wasn’t even under the water.”
With that, Chavis resumed his lesson, three days in to what could be a sport for life.
Tags: Michael Phelps