In the swim of things at Moss Hollow


Becky Reardon, a 19-year-old swimming instructor from England, conducts a class at Camp Moss Hollow in Fauquier County. Many of the kids arrive at Moss Hollow not knowing how to swim. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)
John Kelly
Columnist July 18, 2012

“Hurry up!” shouts a wisp of a boy wearing a bathing suit and with a towel draped over an arm. “I’m dying here!”

“Stop shouting,” a little girl yells back. She has just emerged, Venus-like, from the cool, clear waters of the Camp Moss Hollow swimming pool. She’s one of a dozen Nereids who have just completed a swim lesson and are reluctantly hauling themselves from the water. A group of boys from the Alpine cabins waits impatiently under the hot sun, denied sweet relief by the slow pace of these dawdling mermaids.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

At last, all the girls are out and they’re chattering toward their cabins up the hill. But before the boys can jump in, a kraken has risen from the deep. “This is not free time,” booms Sam Foy, Moss Hollow’s chief aquatics instructor. “This is class. . . . Don’t mess my water up. I see you running around on that deck, I’m coming for you.”

And then Sam sinks into the water and paddles to the deep end with the lone camper from this group of 7- to 10-year-old boys whom he has deemed competent enough to handle nine feet of water. The rest are left under the watchful care of the lovely Becky Reardon, Queen Amphitrite in a black one-piece.

“Okay boys,” she announces. “You can get in the water now.”

Except she says it more like “wa-teh.” She’s from Maidstone, England, one of four counselors from the United Kingdom.

Becky has the boys grab the edge of the pool and kick their legs.

“Get your whole body in,” she says. “Kick your legs, boys! Don’t be wimps like the girls.”

This gets them motivated. Fingers grasping the concrete coping, they churn the water furiously with their feet.

“Now I want you to put your face under the water and blow bubbles,” Becky says. Next up: the “push and glide.” She instructs them to push off and see how far they can go underneath the water.

“That’s easy!” one boy says. “I can do that!”

“That may look easy, but it’s not,” the boy sitting next to him says with the grim deadpan of a veteran.

For some, the push and glide is more like the push and flail.

“Boys, try and remember you don’t need your arms and legs,” Becky says.

A boy pushes from the side and floats a few feet. He pops up and looks to Becky for her verdict.

“You need to push more with your legs,” she says. “You only got this far” — she holds up the thumb and forefinger of one hand — “when you need to go this far” — she holds her arms apart.

Next up: the “push and kick.” One by one, they launch themselves.

“Brilliant!” Becky says. “Well done. That was it. Now you’ve got your arms sorted — mostly — we’ll work on moving your head to the side.”

They all love the pool — to cool off in, float in, splash in — there’s just something unsettling about putting their faces in it, especially the way Miss Becky wants them to: completely, their noses pointing at the bottom. Still, most of them gamely give it a try.

All too soon this lesson is over. The next group is walking down the hill.

At lunch later, I talk with Becky about what took her 4,000 miles from home. “I thought it would be good experience,” she says of her decision to come to America. “I didn’t want to sit home all summer.”

In the spring, Becky, 19, finished her first year at Canterbury Christ Church University, where she’s studying to be a teacher. She’s a certified swimming instructor. Kids in England, Becky says, have to learn to swim by about the age of 10, part of a national curriculum.

“It’s definitely been an experience,” she says of her summer at Moss Hollow. “Most of them are really good kids. They have so much to offer, but I don’t think they really get the chance at home.”

Here, though, they do. With Sammy the sea monster and Becky the sea goddess, they grow tails and learn to love the amniotic embrace of the crystal pool.

We’ve just about one week left in our campaign to raise $500,000 for Moss Hollow, a camp for at-risk kids from the D.C. area. Give now and a donor will match your contribution. What’s more, donors of $150 to $249 will get a $25 Clyde’s gift certificate. Those who give $250 or more will get a $50 coupon.

To donate, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

Colorblind

A temporary brain freeze had me mixing up the colors Wednesday of the Goodies Frozen Custard van. It’s painted blue on the bottom, white on the top.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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