(Published March 25, 2021)
Growing up in Mexico, Filiberto Cruz Mancera loved sports. Basketball, volleyball, almost anything athletic – except swimming. When Filiberto was about six years old, his younger brother fell into and was swept away in the strong current of a creek where Filiberto, his brother and an older sister were playing.
Filiberto and his sister frantically chased after their little brother to rescue him (their mother, a widow with 10 kids [of which Filiberto is the ninth], had been at work, providing for her family). Unsurprisingly, Filiberto was traumatized by this experience and for years thereafter feared any aquatic activities as well as being near water. “Even if the water was at my knees, I still got very scared of it,” he said.
In 2009, after his younger brother and mother passed away within six months of each other, Filiberto felt some of his fear of the water begin to dissipate. But even though he started thinking, “Maybe I’ll learn how to swim,” he kept putting it off and procrastinating for another 10 years. Then in 2020, once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “I realized my life can be gone at any time,” Filiberto said. “There are many things I don’t want to skip before I die, and swimming is one of those.” After trying a couple other facilities, Filiberto landed at the J, and he has been a member since October 2020.
“When I Start Something, I Won’t Stop Until I Get It”
Filiberto has already proven he has the mettle to achieve whatever he sets his mind to. He arrived in the U.S. in 2013 speaking very little English, leaving a good job in Mexico to do so. In the eight years since, he has learned a new language (Filiberto credits audiobooks, song lyrics and TEDxTalks with teaching him English vocabulary, pronunciation and fluency respectively), started two businesses and, in February 2021, achieved U.S. citizenship. So if anyone is persistent enough to work on a new skill for as long as it takes to master it, it’s Filiberto. “I’ve always believed that if you want something, you have to be there every day,” he said. “For me, I’ve learned that discipline is everything. Keep going, especially when you’re afraid of something. You’ll get closer and closer, and one day you’re going to get it. Now I’ve set my goal: I have to swim. And I will.”
“One Day, I Will Swim Faster than Them”
In his first couple of months at the J, Filiberto worked alone, immersing himself in the Regenstrief Lap Pool five days a week, even though he didn’t go further than the shallow end. As he trained, he watched swim instructor Ed Ahlbrand and thought, “He’s so good working with the kids; I think that’s something I need. Someone who will help me with no hesitation.” So Filiberto asked Ed to teach him, and since December 2020 Filiberto has been taking private lessons with Ed weekly (and still comes in to work by himself on other days). Filiberto is proud of the progress they’ve made, but also acknowledged that Ed’s mere presence is a comfort too: “Sometimes all I need is for him to touch my shoulder and I can start to do [something],” he said.
For the most part, Filiberto’s lessons take place in the Regenstrief Lap Pool. “Ed and I used the [Backer] Therapy Pool once,” he said. “We made a lot of progress – since you can set the [water] level, I felt more comfortable, because though I’m not as afraid as I once was, I’m still scared to be in deeper water. When we were there, knowing that if I sink I can be right at the bottom, we did very well.” But then they moved back into the Regenstrief Lap Pool so they could progress from shallow to deeper water within the same lesson, challenging Filiberto to face his fears. There, he also regularly interacts with Indy Aquatic Masters coaches and sees accomplished swimmers doing laps. “One day, I will swim faster than them,” he said.
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Now in his mid-40s, Filiberto is realizing swimming’s additional benefits (aside from general water safety). At a previous facility, someone told him, “I can tell by your body that you like to work out, so it’s great you’re learning to swim, because when you get older, you may not be able to run or lift anymore, but you will be able to swim.” Filiberto has kept that message in mind as he endeavors to keep himself healthy and strong. At the same time, he’s inspired by the older people he sees working out in the Mordoh Fitness Center gym (Filiberto exercises at the J at least five mornings each week, so if he’s not in the pool, that’s where you can find him). “If I keep myself doing what I’m doing, and I’m planning on it, I will be like them,” he said of the dedicated seniors he admires. “No matter how old you are, if you have the determination to do something, you will do it.”
April is National Adult Learn to Swim Month!
Visit JCCindy.org/adult-aquatics for more information on private, semi-private and group swim lessons for adults at the J.