While aquatic legends, like mermaids or the Loch Ness monster, are highly debatable, the health benefits of outdoor swimming are undeniable. Studies show that outdoor swimming boosts the immune system, improves circulation, and reduces stress. People of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels can improve muscle endurance, core strength, and stamina with aquatic exercise, while burning around 400 to 500 calories per hour.

If you want to improve your health with outdoor swimming but don’t know where to start, look no further than Y member Al Jaurique. He is living proof that anyone, at any age, can conquer the challenge of outdoor swimming.

When Al enrolled his children in swimming lessons at the Y almost 25 years ago, he decided to get in the water himself. He rediscovered the joy of swimming and got hooked on the benefits. At age 50, he had built up enough confidence in the water to test his swimming skills in the open ocean. Now 62, Al has swam to Alcatraz, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and the width of Lake Tahoe.

While he encourages everyone to get in the water, Al urges all swimmers to put safety first. “Safety is the big thing.” He says, “You always have to be respectful of the water.”

Al believes that youth and adults alike should learn to be safe around water, which is why he enrolled his children in swim lessons and got back in the water himself as an adult. While many parents enroll their kids in swim lessons to keep them safe, it’s important that parents empower themselves to learn water safety skills as well.

Al encourages all adults to take swim lessons at the Y. “Swimming is one of those sports that anybody can do. You can come in a wheelchair, you can be injured, and you can have a bad ankle or a bad hip or anything. You can find a way to adapt.”

Starting small and slowly building up to swimming is how Al advises newcomers to build confidence in the water. Whether it’s hanging onto the edge, blowing bubbles by the stairs, or just dipping your toes in, consistent effort ads up fast.

Al’s personal experience with open water swimming taught him that consistency is key, but community is crucial. Al became such a constant figure in South Valley YMCA’s lap lanes that members, staff, and lifeguards began to hold him accountable for staying on top of his aquatic exercise. If he is absent from the pool for too many days in a row, Y friends and staff call to check on him. The strong support of the Y community has encouraged Al to keep swimming for 25 years and counting.

“It’s fun coming here, talking to so many people that I know,” Al says of South Valley YMCA. “This place has been my home for over 25 years.”