About two years ago, a 50-something woman appeared on the pool deck asking me to help her overcome her complete terror of water, hinting perhaps she could learn to swim at the same time.

Her husband had decided to buy a sailing boat. There was the possibility of his early retirement.

Two small things upset those plans. A wife who couldn’t swim, with the danger of setting the scene for a lonely retirement should the unthinkable occur, and the global financial crisis eroding the funds set aside to make it all possible.

Seeing my new client in the water for the first time should have hinted at the winding road ahead. If it wasn’t the asthma attack or the spluttering incredulous look after the first attempt at facial submersion, perhaps the look of terror should have been a giveaway.

Our second attempt at a lesson ended in tears of frustration. We set a clear rule that additional fees would be due if she drank more than a litre of the sterile, chlorinated water.

Diligence and hard work began paying off about two months later when she achieved her first 25-metre freestyle swim with flippers in shallow water. Although water consumption was still a problem, exercise-induced asthma was now manageable.

So began the mind game. It was my job to convince the client that the water was a friend who would help her enjoy her retirement, not an enemy out to destroy her.

First came the separation of Linus and his blanky. Flippers, kickboard, the edge of the pool, snorkel, shallow water — the list seemed endless.

We began a process of self-affirmation, reciting over and over (difficult to do out loud when one’s head is beneath the waves), “The water is my friend”.

The six-month stage was marked by an incredible event. My client swam her first 50 metres — against the ‘flow of traffic’ in the lane so she could hug the wall, reciting her affirmation out loud.

Two years after we first met, I received a phone call to assist with a few ‘touch up’ lessons. The lifestyle and physical change I met was inspirational. A little weight loss, fitness and outlook on life were all enhanced.

What a hard road to become a sailorette! How amazing to hear of an about-to-retire woman leaping overboard with a glass of champagne in her hand last weekend to prove she was safe should she slip! It is all highly amusing, and very, very satisfying.

Get out to play with Team Sydney’s member club the Australian Sailing and Cruising Club. Locate them at: www.teamsydney.org.au

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