Natasha Foreman didn’t learn to swim until she was 30 in 2017 She began taking lessons from a colleague who was a lifeguard at Girls Inc.
It’s not uncommon in the black community for people like Foreman to learn to swim later in life, or for others not at all.
Now she’s the one teaching.
Foreman is the owner of Natasha’s Nurturing Nest – a dual service business that offers both a swim academy and at-home nanny service. Foreman launched her swim business last year at the height of the pandemic to stay active outdoors. She now hopes her company will empower young black children to take swimming lessons and make swimming lessons more equitable locally.
Many in the black community never learn to swim, largely due to a lack of access to private pools, parents who have never learned to swim themselves, and a lack of available youth training.
Through her own experience growing up in Atlanta, Foreman said that swimming is often just not a priority for families of color.
“I never received any formal instruction as a child. I don’t think I knew there was such a thing as swimming lessons,” Foreman said. “I learned it so late because it wasn’t a priority for my family. Given our circumstances, my mother focused on having a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs. While it’s not an excuse, it was my reality.”
The same roadblocks still exist for many black families today.
Through Natasha’s Nurturing Nest, Foreman offers 30-minute swimming lessons for children ages 1-12 using a community pool or private residence pools instead of traditional large class lessons.
Using pools that are closer to their customers often removes transportation barriers for families. Foreman says a more hands-on approach also helps build confidence in her students and maintain a higher success rate for young swimmers.
She hopes that Natasha’s Nurturing Nest will not only help more children of color become recreational swimmers, but believes that with increased representation, others will also learn to embrace diversity in the industry.
“There was a point where I wanted to stop and give up because it was very difficult,” Foreman said. “The majority of the families and the kids don’t look like you, and they come in and they see this new face… the kids, who really didn’t feel comfortable with me, would cry. But I couldn’t give up. I wanted them to be comfortable and learn proper swimming safety. I couldn’t give up because at the end of the day swimming is just too much fun.”
Girls Inc. Board of Directors approved swimming lessons in 2017 for Foreman under longtime swimming coach Teresa Hanafi.
It took her three months to learn the basics and learn skills like treading water, breathing properly, flutter kicks and swimming backwards.
“She was what you might call a traditional non-swimmer,” Hanafi said. “She’d been told traditional things like ‘kick hard’ or ‘take a deep breath and stop.’ It perpetuates the fear she felt.”
A year later, after earning her swimming instructor certification, Foreman was offered a position at Hanafi. Since then, Foreman has helped teach the basics of swimming to students of all ages during her time with Sarasota Swim Academy and the Sarasota Tsunami Swim Team.
“She was comfortable in the water and I think she found a new way to be one with herself,” Hanafi said. “It was a beautiful transformation in the water for her.”
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Foreman doesn’t take the job lightly. She recalls many years of her youth living in apartments where swimming was sometimes scary.
“I remember playing in the water closer to the pool steps, but neither of us could swim,” Foreman said. “In middle school, a high school kid dived me in 12 feet for fun, but without my permission… I can’t remember how I survived that, but I didn’t really enjoy swimming after that.”
“When the lessons were offered for free by a professional, I couldn’t say no,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
fish out of the water
Rachel Goldman is from Sarasota and is an entrepreneur. Foreman has worked as a nanny and swimming instructor for her family for two years.
“When we first met her it was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. I was like, ‘Oh, she’s black and she’s swimming!'” Goldman said. “It just clicked for us straight away.”
“He’s more comfortable in the water,” Goldman said of their 3-year-old son. “Where a lot of parents are going to focus on football at that age. I have decided to focus on swimming. I think it’s a better foundation that will carry you throughout your life.”
Like Foreman, Goldman only recently learned to swim as an adult.
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In addition to differences in access to water, cultural factors — such as generational fears of swimming and the added stress of maintaining black or textured hair exposed to pool chemicals — prevented many black women from embracing water in their youth.
“I was told not to go in the water because of my hair,” Goldman said. “My mother didn’t want me there, but I feel like my mother did it wrong. I wanted to make sure my child learned to swim from a young age.”
Hanafi knows the fears. She has seen many girls struggle with swimming lessons because of similar experiences. “A lot of black and brown moms are scared of swimming, so you know right away they don’t want their kids to swim,” Hanafi said. “But when they come in, you see it; they also want to learn. It’s really such a healing thing – for the parents and the kids.”
Samantha Gholar Weires covers social justice news for the Herald-Tribune and the USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @samanthagweires