Turning Fear into Love
When Ali and Jeff St Cyr were first matched with a “Little” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, they were faced with an extra challenge. “Mikey’s mom told us he didn’t know how to swim,” recalls Ali. “We decided the first thing we would do is teach him how to swim. There is water everywhere. The chances of him falling into water are pretty large.”
Ali and her husband attempted the feat themselves at the South Tampa Family YMCA. “We took him to the YMCA because Big Brothers Big Sisters has a special program where we have free membership and it was an absolute disaster.” The couple learned Mikey was deathly afraid of water. “He would say, ‘water will kill me,” shares Ali. Determined not to give up, she kept bringing him back with the same result. “He would grab onto my neck so tight, dig his nails in and scream,” remembers Ali. “It was like we were torturing this poor kid and we were not making any progress. He would shut down – pout, cry and shake. He was so scared.”
It was obvious to Ali that Mikey required formal lessons from a certified instructor. Before coming back to the Y, Ali explored other options. “Swim lessons are expensive,” says Ali. “It was going to be quite a lot of money and I don’t know if I would’ve been able go through multiple cycles and afforded that. But it was just so important to me that I knew we had to do this.” That’s when she heard about the Y’s financial assistance program from her friend and Tampa YMCA Governance Board member Erin Elser.
Mikey qualified for a scholarship and Y swim instructors went to work boosting his confidence in the water. “He viewed them differently – not so much as an authority figure but as somebody who is there to help him learn,” says Ali. “They were very patient with him. I never saw him shake like he did with me. There was something about them; he ultimately trusted them from the moment he met them.”
After three rounds of swim sessions, Mike completely transformed. “He loved it! He looked forward to going and he progressed,” says Ali. “Now, he’s doing cannonballs in the pool with no fear whatsoever.” When Ali reported back to mom… “She was over the moon about it. She thinks it’s the most amazing thing,” shares Ali. “He always says, ‘when are we going back to the pool?’ Over three years, this is the most important thing that we’ve done for him in our relationship.”
Every month, Ali takes Mikey back to the Y to swim. “He looks forward to going there. You can’t get him out of the pool now. He likes practicing. Being among other kids and that positive influence really encourages him to keep working on it,” shares Ali who plans to start Mikey in lessons again soon. “The next goal is to pass the swim test and go down the big boy slide.” It’s a goal he’s sure to accomplish, thanks to the generous donors who enable the Y to provide important life-saving skills that could benefit students for a lifetime. If you would like to help teach more kids, like Mikey, how to swim, contact Amanda.Marshall@tampaymca.org.
Pictured above: Swim lessons at the South Tampa Family YMCA helped Michael “Mikey” Grider turn his fear of water into a newfound love for swimming.