Feature: Swimming lessons at St Albans Westminster Lodge
- Credit: Picture: CALLUM ALLCOCK-GREEN
If a bizarre set of circumstances lead me to a place where I was forced to swim lengths at gunpoint, I could.
But it wouldn’t be pretty. There would most certainly be splashing, arm flailing, gasping for air, and a general lack of poise*.
So when the chance to have swimming lessons at Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre came up, I was first in line.
The centre reopened in November 2012 after a £24.7 million refurbishment, and can now boast a 10-lane, 25m swimming pool, confidence and training pools, and swimming lessons.
It also hosts a variety of sessions for all ages and abilities, such as Women Only, Swim 4 Fitness, or Young at Heart.
Karla Turner is my instructor - she is friendly and welcoming, and I’m immediately at ease.
The 26-year-old has been teaching at the poolside for 10 years and working at the Everyone Active centre on Holywell Hill for six. She has won swimming medals at county and regional level, and was very close to qualifying for national competitions.
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“I can do the froggy one ”, I start hopefully. “but, with my head out of the water.”
Apparently, that’s not how you’re meant to do breast stroke. Karla explains that position puts strain on your back and is inefficient to boot.
Explaining how to breathe properly, she warns me: “Don’t panic when your face goes into the water. Adults often panic.”
“I’ll be fine!” I answer, brushing off her concerns. “What’s the fuss about? I think I can handle a bit of water. It’s not a big deal. I’ll be *so* fine.”
It was not fine.
Spluttering and gasping, I manage a maximum of two strokes before I’m gulping water and resurfacing - still very much in the shallow end, about 2m in.
Ever patient, Karla goes through the right technique and strokes over and over with me while I gradually improve over two half an hour lessons.
With the help of some goggles and a dose of willpower, I make it into the deep end. In fact, I’m actually significantly better in the deep end. Much more relaxed. Unravel that, arm-chair psychologists.
Ending strong on my last length, and with my own personal groupies cheering from the side (Karla and our photographers Danny Loo and Callum Allcock-Green), I make it one full length of the 25m pool doing a vague-enough approximation of a proper breast stroke and the correct breathing technique. Go me.
Karla said: “It’s the best job ever. I do love it because I used to swim when I was younger and it is something I have always loved.
“It is very rewarding, teaching special needs and other children to swim and seeing their progress.
“You did really well. I have taught other adults and everyone is different, but you did really well.”
As I reflect on the experience, along to the whirring of my hair dryer in the changing rooms, I realise that I enjoyed the lessons much more than I expected.
Watch this space. I could be the next Rebecca Adlington, you know.
Westminster Lodge is operated by Everyone Active, in partnership with St Albans district council (SADC). Alongside the swimming facilities, there is also a four-court sports hall, a luxury spa, fitness gym, dance studios, climbing wall and bistro.
Funding for the refurbishment came from borrowings, Section 106 money and capital reserves.
SADC have since also delivered two other new sport and leisure centres around the district, at Batchwood and at Cotlandswick in London Colney.
Work on SADC’s £18.8 million scheme to renovate Harpenden’s new sport and cultural centre has also just been given the go-ahead from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Extending and altering the swimming pool in Rothamsted Park, there will be two main pools, a sports hall, dance studios and a larger gym as well as a steam room and sauna.
Everyone Active was named for the eighth time as Facility Operator of the Year at the 2018 Swim England National Awards last November.
At the ceremony, Everyone Active was also awarded three other titles, including for individual swimmers and teachers.
Find out about Westminster Lodge swimming lessons at www.everyoneactive.com*That is, if the gunman has the patience to wait long enough for me to complete a length, and doesn’t shoot me out of frustration first.