No she’s not Nemo, but Judy Emch is in or around water almost as much as a fish. Mostly at the Lewiston YWCA. She teaches water rescue, first aid, life guarding and water safety. Coming up: An American Red Cross lifeguarding course starting at the end of this month. But her most fun class is the Y’s Puddle Jumpers offering: 18- to 36-month-olds swim with a flotation belt (a.k.a. “a bubble”) the whole length of the pool with their mom or dad and Emch without being held. It’s part of her quest to make sure everyone knows how to get in the swim.

Name: Judy Emch

Nickname? Miss Judy (by the children in my classes)

Your age in dolphin years: Not sure, but I have been turning non-swimmers into fish for more than 35 years!

What are your many job titles? American Red Cross instructor/instructor-trainer in first aid and CPR/AED on two different levels, Lifeguarding, Water Safety, and Babysitter Training. I teach for the American Red Cross and the YWCA of Central Maine.

You’re pretty much in the pool all day. How did you get started swimming, and what do you love about it? Neither of my parents could swim, but they made sure I took swim lessons right through lifeguard certification.

You start teaching kids when they’re only a few months old. Isn’t that kind of young? The American Red Cross has recently updated its Learn To Swim Program based on research that supports the importance of teaching very young children (starting at 6 months old) to feel comfortable in the water and to learn to swim independently (starting as a pre-schooler) as a means of heading off future drowning. To me, learning to swim is not an optional skill, it is a crucial part of a child’s development. In Maine especially, most of us know and visit someone with a house on a beach or with a pool or hot tub. If children do not know how to swim, the results could be tragic if the adults around them are not vigilant about supervision. My own children took lessons through lifeguard certification and now I am working on my 3 grandchildren: 6 months, 21 months and 2 years.

Given your years of experience, describe what you feel is the best way for a child to learn to swim? Taking lessons with a certified instructor is key. We know how to ensure safety and provide lots of fun! Additionally, swimming as a family outside of class reinforces the lessons learned, provides great family fun time, an opportunity for exercise and demonstrates safety skills.

Have you ever met anyone who wasn’t able to learn to swim? Can anyone learn? YES! While it may take more mental exercise for an adult to overcome a lifetime of fear of the water, anyone can learn some basic skills. I have successfully taught senior citizens who had never been in water deeper than a bathtub to swim across the pool!

What’s your scariest moment as a life guard or instructor? And how did it work out? Taking three children to “the deep end” of a pool, all three started to panic and grabbed onto me, pushing me under. I guided each to the edge, urging them to keep “paddling,” as they were almost there. Within a few seconds, all were beaming at having swum to the deep end “all by themselves”!

What do you love most about teaching swimming? I get excited every time one of my students masters a skill he/she has been working on. I work with a lot of students, so it happens a lot!

You’re in chlorinated water all day. What do you do to keep your love interest from complaining “Get away from me with that dry flaky skin, Fish Legs!” Lots of moisturizer and conditioner!

What’s one thing people should know about the YWCA’s pool or swim program that they may not know? This is one of the best ways I know for children to learn an important life skill in a safe, fun environment staffed with certified water safety instructors who teach swimming because they LOVE to help children and adults learn to swim.

How long will you continue to teach swimming? As long as there is water!

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