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Missing out on swim lessons as kids, these adults are diving in

Torniqua Sashington tucked her hair under a bubblegum pink swim cap Monday night and carefully slipped into the shallow end of an indoor pool for her first swimming lesson at a YMCA in Woodlawn.

A lifelong Englewood resident, Sashington, 27, was raised less than five miles from Lake Michigan but never learned to swim. She nearly drowned in a neighbor’s pool at 13, cementing her fear of open water.

Now, Sashington says she wants to join her three young children in the water. She was motivated to attend adult swimming lessons after reading recent news reports of people drowning in Lake Michigan.

“I’m always on the side of the pool with my feet in but I’m terrified to put my head in,” Sashington said. “Hopefully by the end of classes, I’ll be jumping in the pool.”

Red Cross survey found that 54 percent of people living in the U.S. either can’t swim or lack basic skills to survive a water-related emergency. As a result, drowning is the fifth leading cause of accidental deaths nationwide.

In an average year, 34 people drown in Cook County, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 402 adults died from 2011 to 2015 in accidental drownings across the state.

Julia Harper, a longtime swimming instructor with the South Side YMCA of Metro Chicago, where Sashington is taking lessons, said there is no such thing as being too old to learn to swim. But she said adults are easily discouraged when their peers progress faster than they do, sometimes causing them to quit when they feel like they’re failing.