Can’t swim? Campus Recreation can help you learn

Young woman learning to swim with instructor

Certified water safety instructors Maria Vilarete (left) and Amy Martello demonstrate proper backstroke form. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Does every student, faculty and staff member at UIC know how to swim?

The American Red Cross reports that 54 percent of Americans can’t swim or don’t know basic swimming skills.

“I believe the statistic,” said Nate Scott, associate director of facilities in Campus Recreation. “I think a lot of it boils down to opportunity. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go to lakes, oceans or pools over the summer, and if you never do that, there’s probably no real emphasis for you to learn how to swim.”

Water competency, according to the Red Cross, includes:

  • stepping or jumping into water that exceeds the swimmer’s height, returning to the surface and floating or treading water for one minute
  • turning around in a full circle and finding an exit
  • swimming 25 yards to an exit
  • exiting the water without using a ladder.

Although that’s the test the Red Cross set up to determine a swimmer’s capabilities, it’s not enough for aquatic coordinator Alecia Stegenga. “While it makes sense, it doesn’t necessarily define being able to swim or not being able to swim,” said Stegenga.

She and the other water safety instructors at the Student Recreation Facility focus on additional skills. “What we work on is more of learning the proper way to kick your feet in the water, to propel yourself,” she said. “Learning how to take those strokes, how to breathe rhythmically with your strokes, and how you move yourself through the water.”

In other words, “form” is the key word for Campus Recreation instructors.

“It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, if your form is good, you’re going to be faster,” said Amy Martello, a certified water safety instructor at the Student Recreation Facility and a senior in English. “I watch a lot of people swim badly. They’re flopping their arms and not getting anywhere,” she said. “With us assisting them, they can do it more of the correct way.”

Campus Recreation offers swimming classes to students, faculty and staff.

Group lessons will be available for all ages starting in January. One-hour weekly private and semiprivate lessons are currently available for adults and children; adult lessons are $160 for students and $175 for members, for eight 60-minute lessons. Lessons are also available for children and parent-tot groups.

Whether it’s learning to swim for health, safety or a triathlon, the water safety instructors can help. “The classes are goal-oriented, based on the specific person’s interests,” Stegenga said.

All 25 water safety instructors completed a 30-hour certification program. The program tests the instructor’s abilities to swim 100 yards in each stroke style and tread water for a set amount of time.

“It is something that sets our program apart from a lot of aquatics programs, really, in the country — for us to have that many certified instructors,” Scott said.

For more information about UIC aquatics, call 312-413-5161 or email

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