Free lessons teach ‘thousands’ to swim in Rock Hill

York, Lancaster and Chester counties may be landlocked, but there’s no shortage of water in the tri-county area. From swimming pools and Lake Wylie to the Catawba River and all the streams and ponds in between, there are plenty of places where people can get wet during the summer.

But with all those chances for summer fun comes the opportunity for disaster, which is why the city of Rock Hill Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has made free swimming lessons a priority for years, said pool supervisor Jim Austin.

The city’s four public pools offer lessons throughout the summer. Registration spots for this summer filled in just four hours, Austin said.

On Thursday morning, the air was muggy and the sun was blaring, but Lewis Robles, 10, was paddling through the pool like an old pro. Just a few days before, his mother, Vitta Clauson said, he would have been panicking and sinking like a rock.

“I have nothing but fabulous things to say about these people,” she said, gesturing to the pool where Lewis and a few other swim students were paddling around with instructors Hunter Mullis and her mother, Jennifer Mullis.

Jennifer Mullis blows a whistle and her four students push off the wall and practice their backstroke. She goes over to put her hands under LaMorris Foster, 8, as he works on mastering the moves.

“Swimming is like you’re going underwater and you have to envision somewhere that you like,” LaMorris said outside the pool, dripping wet from his turn swimming across the deep end.

If you envision somewhere you like, then it’s not scary, he said. He pictures an airplane when he’s swimming.

Brian Yarmons is certain that since U.S. Aquatics started managing the Rock Hill pools about a decade ago, “thousands” of children have learned to swim. Yarmon is the director of operations for U.S. Aquatics, which has about 50 employees working at the city’s pools.

“It’s really rewarding to see the children progress through the different activities and the different sessions that we have,” Yarmon said.

Swimming is a lifelong skill, Austin said, plus summer swim lessons give children an opportunity to interact with one another.

In the shallow end of the pool, Jason Cousar works one on one with Hunter Mullis, bobbing up and down in the water, getting more comfortable with pushing off, kicking, paddling and coming up for air.

Jason is fearless around water, said his mother, Charleena Cousar. They went to a water park last summer and he couldn’t get enough.

“And I said we are not going to another water park until he learns to swim,” she said.

His grandparents also recently got a pool, and he can’t go until he’s had at least a few lessons. While Jason has his lessons in the morning, Charleena Cousar comes back in the afternoon to take the adult classes. She learned as a kid, but a bad experience at a lake kept her out of the water for years.

“But with him, he loves water, so I’ve got to do it,” she said.