A Stroke Of Luck

Allison Hay © A lady swimming in a pool Pic: Shutterstock


Despite her self-doubt, Leah could be about to take the plunge into more than just the beginners’ pool…

“It’s going to be amazing!” Emily sighed as she thumbed through the glossy pages. The paper oozed luxury.

“It does look idyllic,” replied Leah. Her well-deserved promotion, after ten years of hard work, had triggered this trip.

Can you imagine? Two whole weeks of swimming in that lagoon pool. And look at all the water sports on offer. I can’t wait for us to try snorkelling.

Leah scrutinised the images of bikini-clad goddesses. She mustered a small smile and an enthusiastic-looking nod.

Leah had met Emily at university and they had become firm friends practically overnight, their humorous personalities gelling them together. But their respective aquatic skills had never cropped up in conversation, and the need to inform Emily that she couldn’t swim never arose.

Leah had problems with her ears as a child and had always been excused from swimming lessons. As she got older, she was happy to spend holidays draped across a lounger with books for company.

She never felt the desire to learn, but that was all about to change. Their holiday of a lifetime was booked for three months time. Plenty of time to learn to swim, she thought, trying to convince herself that the task ahead was merely a formality.

But first, she needed to invest in a swimming costume. She doubted any of her bikinis would be suitable. Their sole purpose was to ensure she was left with as few white bits as possible.

She settled for an all-in-one black bather with thick shoulder straps and plenty of support where it mattered. She stared at her reflection in the mirror as she frantically swung her arms in an overarm motion, ensuring everything stayed in its rightful place.

She scoured the websites of local leisure centres and quickly found what she was looking for.

Swimming for Beginners. 9am-10am. Ten weekly sessions starting this Saturday. Guaranteed to be able to swim one length of the pool by the end of the course! Apply for a place online and for the first session meet at the main reception.

Perfect, she said to herself as she input her details.

On Saturday morning, Leah was up bright and early. As she sipped at her black coffee she pondered her forthcoming lesson and a flutter of nerves danced in the pit of her stomach.

In her eagerness she arrived early and hovered around the large reception area, looking for signs of the swimming group.

It wasn’t long before a booming voice echoed around the vaulted ceiling of the foyer. Waving a long pole with a chequered flag on the end, a toned, muscular man in his early twenties was rounding up the swimming group.

“Beginners’ swimming class? Over here, please. My name is Max, and I will be your trainer for the next ten weeks. Form a queue when I call your name.”

Leah’s gaze stretched from his flip flop-encased feet to his mop of messy blond curls, pulled back from his face with a red Alice band.

He yanked a pen from behind his ear, popped the pole into a stand and started to call out names from his clipboard.

All seems rather childlike, Leah thought as her name was called, and she tentatively made her way over to the flag.

While standing in the queue, realisation set in. Everyone else queuing behind her was no more than ten years old.

She felt her cheeks heat up as she lowered her gaze to her feet. She picked up her kitbag and quietly removed herself from the queue, praying that Max wouldn’t notice her trying to escape.

Head down, she turned and promptly stepped on someone’s foot. She jolted her head up in embarrassment.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

He hardly seemed to notice. He shuffled his bag from one shoulder to the other, lifted his hand and ran it through his floppy fringe, pulling the hair out of his eyes.

Excuse me, is this the queue for the beginners’ swimming class?

Leah looked around him, expecting to see a small child in tow, but he appeared to be alone.

“Yes. Yes, it is. If you’ve enrolled online, Max over there will call your name.”

“Great, thanks. Sorry, I’m a little nervous.” He held out his hand. “I’m Alex. You starting the class today too?”

Leah took in his clean-shaven face, the dimple in his chin and his glossy black hair. As she took his hand, a waft of tangy lemon entered her nostrils, and all thought of abandoning the lesson evaporated.

“Yes, actually I am. I’m Leah.”

Max sauntered along the queue, the squeak of his flip flops announcing his arrival as he approached them.

“You two in the queue for the beginners swimming?” he asked.

Alex cast a wary eye around the foyer.

“Sorry, but is this class only for children?” he asked, looking at the long line in front of him.

Max glanced up and down his list before answering.

“There is a class on a Tuesday evening specifically for adult beginners, but there are plenty of spare places for today’s session. Learning to swim will be the same whether you’re four or forty.”

The pen Max replaced behind his ear disappeared into his hair and he marched back down the line of children.

Once he was out of earshot Alex cupped his hand and moved closer to Leah. “Was he suggesting I look forty?”

She let out a giggle.

“Surely not! If so, I dread to think what age he put me at!”

Alex smiled, and dimples appeared on his cheeks joining the prominent one on his chin. “Well, I’m game if you are!”

“Why not! What have we got to lose?”

Despite his brisk manner, Max was an excellent teacher. He had endless patience with the younger children and gained their trust quickly with his friendly approach.

Once in the water, Leah felt her nerves disperse and she listened intently to Max’s instructions. After the lesson, she was towel drying her hair when she sensed Alex hovering next to her.

“You fancy a coffee?”

She flicked her hair back and expertly secured it with a bobble that appeared from nowhere.

“That would be great! I think we deserve it after all our efforts today.”

He laughed in a deep tone that had Leah stealing a glance at his chiselled jawline, his wet hair, producing slow drips down the side of his face.

I think you did slightly better than me. I hardly made it out of the shallow end!

“Well, Max has guaranteed that we will swim by the end of the course. Let’s just focus on that!”

After each session, Leah felt her confidence in the water grow and she started to enjoy herself. Every week, she and Alex made their way to the coffee shop and chatted about their struggles in the pool, and with life in general.

“So, how come you never learned to swim, then?” Leah asked as she twirled the froth on her cappuccino, mixing it with the chocolate sprinkles.

Alex did that hand-through-the-hair motion that somehow enchanted Leah. She glanced down, her face warming.

“There was an accident.”

Her head shot back up abruptly, her eyes fixed enquiringly on his.

“We were on holiday in Ibiza. I guess I was about six. A little girl got into trouble. She swam to the deep end and didn’t have the strength to swim back.

“It was all over very quickly and the lifeguards got to her immediately. She was no worse for wear and within half an hour she was back in the pool.”

“Gosh, how frightening,”

“Yes, it was, and it terrified me, and no one could get me near the pool again.”

“So why now?”

He laughed again. “Well, my niece is having a pool party for her fourth birthday and I heard my sister telling her that I wouldn’t be able to come because I couldn’t swim.”

“So here you are!”

“Yes, here I am. What about you?”

“Mine’s not nearly as dramatic,” and she proceeded to tell him about her forthcoming holiday.

“So it’s not as if anything has scared me off, it’s just that it never seemed important… until now. It should have been, of course…”

Alex reached his hand over the table and placed it on top of Leah’s and squeezed her fingers.

“You’re here now, we both are, and I think we are doing pretty well!”

The last session was fast approaching. The final lesson would see everyone swimming for a badge. Max had put each pupil in for the distance he thought they could achieve.

When the day arrived Leah and Alex sat nervously on the side benches, watching everyone take their turn.

Little Ava was up first. She was the youngest in the group at just three, and she was going to be swimming for her ten-metre badge.

They all stood up and cheered as she made her way into the pool. Her face beamed as Max’s words of encouragement spurred her on. He stayed close as her tiny arms flailed in the water. One final surge and she grasped the edge.

The watching crowd roared with glee. “Well done, Ava. You were amazing.”

Max held out her certificate and badge and she squealed with delight.

Leah turned to Alex, smiling eagerly.

“So what distance badge has Max got you going for?”

He grimaced. “A hundred, but I think that may be a bit optimistic!”

“You’ll do it. Just remember to breathe. He wouldn’t have put you in for a hundred if he didn’t think you could do it!”

“I’m loving your optimism!” He chuckled. “What about you?”

“Fifty. I’ll be delighted if I make it. I’m happy that I’ve learned to stay afloat!”

They laughed nervously together. Leah went first and as she lowered her body down the steps Alex delivered a thumbs-up and mouthed, “You’ve got this.”

Gasping and clutching the side, Leah blinked in amazement as Max announced that she had beaten her personal best.

As Alex approached the finish, his toned body skimming the surface of the water, she couldn’t help herself, shouting, “Go, Alex, go! You can do it.”

As his muscular arms reached up the handrails of the steps to pull himself up, Leah instinctively greeted him with a hug, and a peck on the cheek.

Well done, Alex, you did great.

That booming voice rang out from the other side of the pool.

“No petting!” Max said wagging his finger in the air as a broad smile spread across his tanned face. Leah and Alex chuckled as their hands linked together.

“Maybe I can take you for lunch today, rather than our obligatory coffee?”

“I’d like that, Alex, and now I can look forward to my dream holiday.”

“I hope you can look forward to coming home too,” Alex whispered as his lips brushed her cheek.

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Main pic: Jonathan Short

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.