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A Conversation With Swim Instructor Annie Cooper


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What follows are distilled quotes from a conversation with Essex Junction resident Annie Cooper, a longtime swim instructor for children and adults with a passionate local following. Cooper moved to Vermont in 1996 and has owned Swim With Annie since 2009. She stopped offering swim lessons during the pandemic and is now dipping her toes into new plans for the future.

On being a swim teacher:

If I can [say anything] about swimming at all, it's that it saved me. And it saves me through my life repeatedly. I really do wake up in the morning ready to go and give at my work. Swimming is like breathing for me. There are kids that walk into pools and just swim. It's the kids that don't who were most intriguing to me — [and] still are.

We're asking so much of the children. We're asking them to trust me. We're asking parents to trust me. This child—who probably doesn't put their own socks on yet or doesn't know how to tie their shoes yet — I'm going to ask them to assume an enormous amount of responsibility for themselves in water. It's a lot we're asking of children. But they can do it.

I really like having the parents there with me, because I never want to forget that I've got your gift in my hands. What I get back are these deep, beautiful relationships, this sense of community and family. I care about every child. I care about every family. And they, in return, care deeply about me.

On moving to Vermont:

The fact that children were [put] first here, and that's who we prioritized, that made me move here. Also, when I was little, I had seen [the 1975 film] The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. I'm from Brooklyn. Moving to Essex, Vt., was this idealistic version of everything I'd ever dreamed of.

On adapting to COVID-19:

I stopped [swim lessons] on March 9. I can't have kids coming to lessons the same way anymore. I treat COVID safety at equal value of learn-to-swim safety. [But] with swimming, I've had 54 years to study it. COVID-19 is a game of "no-backsies." I can't take back that one time that kid coughed on you.

On Going forward:

I was in the Peace Corps in 1988 and '89 in Botswana. And the Peace Corps idea is, you go and you work your way out of a job. And so the whole point is to do what you do somewhere so that you become obsolete.

Children learn best through their own exploration of water, with someone as their guide. Due to COVID-19, and my thoughts on how I need to change what I'm offering, I've removed the word "lessons" from my vocabulary, completely stopped offering them, and am reinventing what it means to discover swimming through innate choice, [while] hoping to bring even more aquatics to our area. I dream of the time Chittenden County has a rich, vibrant flow of aquatics: water polo, synchronized swimming, diving and so much more. Right now, I continue my wonderful and long relationships with PT360 and the Essex Resort & Spa, as well as keeping my sights on my 14-year dream of seeking to build and facilitate more indoor year-round swimming access for all.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.