Similar to most swim lessons in Sheila Morrison's Pleasant Grove backyard pool, Thursday evenings consist of splashing water and laughter. Some children excitedly cannonball into the deep end while others opt for the relative safety of shallower water. However, amidst the ruckus, is one unifying distinction: all of the participants are learning to overcome their own unique challenge. For seven years now, Morrison has been providing free swimming instruction for special needs children in the community.
"We want these kids to love swimming," Morrison said simply.
Morrison, a swim instructor of 42 years, got the idea to hold the classes when her son, Mack, needed community service hours for his Boy Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge. Yet, long after Mack earned his badge, the class continues.
"Swimming is really my passion," Morrison explained. "Now in my life I feel like I just have a need to give back."
Despite spending nearly every Thursday of the year in her pool with the special needs children, Morrison refuses to accept money for her services.
"I don't charge for special needs because my feeling is that they pay enough," Morrison said explaining that various special needs services and medical bills throughout a child's life can be very overwhelming to families. "It just breaks my heart."
Besides, money isn't the only form of compensation.
"To see the progress in the kids is by far the best reward I could ever receive," Morrison said. "I love those kids."
As word spreads and Morrison's class sizes grow, Morrison is continually adjusting her teaching methods to accommodate each child's needs. For instance, Jonah Bradshaw, a Saratoga Springs boy with arthrogryposis, has very limited use of his arms and legs. But a combination of determination, creativity, and baby steps now has the 7-year-old swimming like a dolphin, literally. Using a technique known as the body dolphin, Bradshaw flips onto his stomach, rhythmically moves his head and hips to propel him through the water until flipping back over for air.
"He's just an inspiration to everyone," Morrison said.
Jonah's mother, Karen Bradshaw, has noticed a lot of positivity stemming from his swim lessons.
"I love seeing him be able to have some independence and see him play like everybody else plays," she said. "He just gets so proud of himself and we do too."
She said that Jonah's newfound ability to swim is a testament to Morrison's quality instruction.
"I think Sheila's got a talent not many swimming coaches out there have," Karen Bradshaw said. "She can take what they have and help them. I think she's amazing."
Jennifer Hagberg agrees. Hagberg's son, Jacob, has Down syndrome and was initially very hesitant to fully enter the water. Less than a year later, Jacob is at ease in the pool and splashing around with friends.
"She's just really good with kids and making them feel confident in the water," Hagberg said. "He really likes her."
In addition to the special needs program, Morrison teaches a variety of classes throughout the week including parents and tots, learn to swim, Boy Scouts classes, and more.
"I want the pool busy," Morrison said. "We built it to be used."
Morrison can be contacted at TheSwimminHoleLLC@gmail.com.