“It’s Never Too Late” is a new series that tells the stories of people who decide to make their dreams come true on their own.
Vijaya Srivastava’s first 68 years were decidedly on land. She walked the Berkeley Hills in the San Francisco Bay Area, spent time with her young grandchildren, and volunteered in the library. None of this required immersion in water, which suited her well, which was terrifying with water. The fear of drowning was a big issue.
Growing up in India, she never had access to swimming pools. When she moved to the United States, the idea of swiping back and forth just didn’t occur to her. Then one day her doctor mentioned that regular rounds would improve her health.
“I can’t swim,” admitted Ms. Srivastava, now 72. She had never put her face under water.
“Have you heard of lessons?” Asked the doctor.
“In my age?”
What followed may have been a long time pondering this question. That didn’t happen. (The following interview has been edited and shortened.)
Q: What were your first steps?
A: The first thing I did was ask a neighbor if she’d like to take classes together. We hired a high school kid from Albany High. She had trained as a lifeguard – I liked that.
“Have you ever trained a senior?” We asked. She said no. OK.
We started classes three days a week.
After I made up my mind to study, that was it. I went to the swimming pool on the days between classes. I started dreaming about swimming. I would wake up excited. When I couldn’t fall asleep, I would swim in bed. My husband would say, “What’s wrong? This is not a pool … “
I also bought a lot of swimsuits – I thought one of them might be lucky. I later realized that you don’t need a 10. I donated some.
Have you studied swimming?
After my first lesson, I started googling. At first I just watched everything that had to do with swimming on YouTube. That got confusing. My daughter later told me about Total Immersion Swimming videos. There’s a guy who’s into the physics of swimming who has helped me a lot.
My grandchildren also went underwater and watched my breaststroke or sat in the hot tub and gave me thumbs up or thumbs down.
What were the greatest challenges?
To be petrified. Nothing had ever happened to me that scared me. I just knew that I could drown. For the longest time I stayed at the shallow end, four feet. I prayed before each lesson.
And not enough perseverance. My arms and legs weren’t ready. After half an hour I was so tired.
Was there a moment when everything clicked?
After a few months the instructor said to me, “It’s time to go to the other end.” I kept saying, “I’m not ready.” She said, “That’s you.”
Finally, I decided that if I don’t try, it will never happen. The teacher said she would be next to me all the time.
“But you are so small!” I told her. She promised me not to let myself drown.
So I started swimming. By the time I reached the 6 foot mark – I’m 1.70 m tall – I knew there was no turning around. Besides, I didn’t know how to turn around.
I finally made it to the other side. My condo neighbors were over in the hot tub. They had watched me fight for the past few months and now they all stood up and clapped for me.
I didn’t wave back until I caught my breath and swam back to the shallow end. There was no way I could remove my hand from the wall at the eight-foot end.
What would you have done differently at the beginning?
There isn’t much I would do differently. Maybe start earlier.
How has your new job changed your life?
When we talk about it – my nephews, my children – they sound so proud of me. Not many people my age or in my family swim. It feels good that I did that. I speak to my family at home in India. My brother can’t believe it.
I was talking to a friend about how to learn to dance – maybe we could take dance lessons?
What would you say to people who feel stuck and want to change something?
I liked that my neighbor swam with me. We’d motivate each other. If I was tired that day, she said, let’s just go for 20 minutes. Twenty minutes turns into half an hour.
Did your experience make you a different person?
Swimming a pool length for the first time when I was 68 – I will always remember that. Last Friday I swam 20 laps! It took me 52 minutes. I still take a break after laps. My next goal is to do this continuously without taking a break. I come there.
What do you wish you knew earlier about fulfillment?
I have a very good friend who told me to know your body, know yourself – which makes you happy, healthy, and angry. That’s always stayed with me. That helped me alot.
But there isn’t much in my life that I would change. If you are relaxed and happy in spirit, it will bring you health. You don’t need too many things in life.
What lessons can people learn from your experience?
Don’t give yourself an option to give up. I never thought of quitting. When I invest mentally, I don’t give up.
We are looking for people who decide that it is never too late to switch, change their life and make dreams come true. Should we talk to you or someone you know? Share your story here.