The student, a 28-year-old high-level engineer who builds satellite systems, is crouched in the shallow water wearing goggles. His job is to blow bubbles through his nose, something many people one tenth his age do without effort. But he’s releasing the air violently and spasmodically, while the water runs down his throat and his panic builds.
His eyes are wild with fear as he raises his head, coughing, and looks at his coach.
Beth Davis, owner and principal of Swim Boulder, smiles warmly as she recounts the story. “For some people it doesn’t happen the first lesson. I take the time I need to get them there.
“In his case, I sent him home with instructions to pinch his nose in the shower with the water running down his face. Then a bowl of water on his counter. Then we used a snorkel in the pool. Only after that did the bubbles come. His whole body was beaming the day he finally mastered it.”
The bubbles mark the first triumph in an adult student’s complicated journey in learning how to swim.
A Long-Term Commitment to Athletic Excellence
Beth, a lifelong competitive athlete — swimming, triathlons, cycling, and ultra running — started swimming in Kentucky when she was six. The pool was her sanctuary, “a world that made sense to me; colors, bubbles, sounds. All of that was home.” She spent 12-hour days there with her team and her coach, perfecting her strokes.
“I’ve always had an incredible passion for swimming, and I’ve always wanted to impart that.”
Beth graduated from the University of North Carolina where she was a walk-on her junior year. Later, in New York, she was a support swimmer for Julie Ridge, the first person to swim twice around the island of Manhattan. She also did the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, where she swam past Our Lady of Freedom in the New York harbor, then cycled and ran to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Early Stages of Business Development
The entrepreneurial spirit was alive in Beth at an early age. As an eight-year-old living on a country road in Lexington, Kentucky, she put up a summer lemonade stand. To get people to stop, she squirted ketchup on her white shirt and laid down by the side of the road. They usually purchased a cup after that!
A few years later she founded Little Women, Little Men, a childcare business focused on the children of her parents’ country club friends.
Making Boulder Her Home
Beth landed in Boulder in 1985. She started out as a swim coach at CU Boulder and was soon recruited to teach for Boulder Aquatic Masters (BAM). At the time she was packaging bulk food at Alfalfa’s Market, waitressing at the Lick Skillet in Gold Hill, and working for a private catering company. Word of her teaching talent was getting around, and friends started asking her to give their children swim lessons when she could.
Her official stepping stone into her own venture was a solo cleaning business. Although it was a rudimentary model — she showed up to private homes, cleaned, picked up the check off the counter — it gave her the confidence to start a swimming business. She had already learned the power of word of mouth and also the importance of customer service. That same model continues in her business today.
A Mentor’s Important Touch
Beth had a mentor, a spiritual teacher who encouraged her to jump in with both feet. “In effect he said charge this, do that, here’s how the numbers work. The confidence he had in me was inspiring. I think he knew that teaching would develop my essence. He was right.”
A Woman with a Mission
Although Beth had a roster of students right at the start, finding a place to teach them wasn’t easy. She went from rec center to rec center, getting whatever space she could, flying under the radar. “I knocked on the door of the Millennium Harvest House for two years straight. I know sometimes a no can become a yes.” Eventually when the management saw the numbers she was bringing in, a formal arrangement was made.
Swim Boulder has been going ever since. Beth teaches year-round at the Harvest House pool to 110 students who range in age from three and a half to 62. Her mission is to “offer a sacred space for adults and children to learn by encouraging mastery through body awareness and focus and, by doing so, bring more depth and meaning into people’s lives.”