Overcoming a 50-year fear of water

It's never too late to learn to swim – just ask Sherri Stillman.

The Riverview grandmother and UPS employee has been working with YMCA of Greater Moncton staff since last fall to overcome a 50-year fear of the water that stemmed from an incident in her childhood at Parlee Beach.

“I was 8 and it was my first trip to Parlee with my family,” Sherri explains. “My mom and I went out to the shallow water, where the water sort of forms kiddie pools. We didn’t notice but someone had dug a hole in the sand that had filled with water. I fell into the hole and went completely under for a second. It really scared me and the feeling stayed with me ever since.”

Sherri avoided going into water at beaches for many years but tried again at the age of 16, walking up to her waist. But she made a rapid exit when someone thought it would be fun to pick her up and toss her in. The feeling of panic came flooding back.

“After that, I really stayed on the sidelines whenever I was near water,” she says.

Last September, however, Sherri decided to tackle her fear head on. After thinking about it for two years and doing some research, she decided to call the YMCA to see if someone could help her improve her comfort level with water and maybe even teach her to swim.

“I didn’t want fear to rule me,” says Sherri. “It’s always been on my bucket list to learn to swim but I wanted to work with someone who had experience, that could help one on one and that understood you can truly fear water.”

Joey Doucet, Senior Director of Aquatics and Volunteer Development, connected Sherri to Aquatics Director Liette Nicholson-Crabb who he said would really help build her confidence.

Liette and Sherri have since worked together weekly, starting in the therapy pool and doing various exercises to help Sherri develop a comfort in the water. With determination (and a few tears), Sherri has gradually progressed from barely being able to put her mouth in the water to being able to do the front and back float and now working on her front glide in the main pool.

“I have never felt such joy and such pride despite my anxiety,” she says. “Liette has been just amazing. I needed that empathy and knowledge. I’m still working on my confidence but Liette is extremely supportive, working at my speed. I’m just so proud.”

Sherri also has the support of her husband, who watches from the pool viewing area every week. She also knows her three adult children and four grandchildren – two of whom are also enrolled in swim classes at the YMCA of Greater Moncton – are also rooting for her.

“I don’t want to miss out anymore,” she says. “Thanks to the Y, my wish of learning to swim is coming true.”