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Tryon Estates Friendship Conquers 70-Year Fear of Water

“I’m really, really afraid of the water. I’m not putting my head in the water. I’m not taking my feet off the bottom of the pool,” said Rita Shimkus, who has feared the water since she was a child.

That was before Rita moved to Tryon Estates, an Acts Retirement-Life Community in Columbus, N.C.

“My mother, when she was a little girl, had almost drowned in the ocean. As soon as I’d start to go out she’d holler, ‘Don’t go too far. You will drown’ and it just got so instilled in my brain,” said Rita.

Now at age 70, Rita is learning to swim for the first time to free herself from the fear that’s consumed her for decades.

Her teacher is fellow resident and friend, 91-year-old Pat Dockendorf.

“It’s wonderful to help someone learn how to swim,” said Pat. “I’ve taught a lot of people here how to swim and it’s very rewarding."

This week, Pat is competing in the local Four Seasons Senior Games in the 90-95 age group. She has qualified for the National Senior Games nine times over the years. She also competes in table tennis and pickleball.

“Pat is gentle and she’s tough. She says that I can do it so I think I can do it or at least try to,” said Rita. 

Rita can now swim the elementary back stroke with no assistance. She’s still taking lessons from Pat to learn the freestyle stroke.

Rita credits her move to Tryon Estates for her positive attitude and active lifestyle, “I would have never done half the things I have done here in the five years that we’re here. Ever.”

“I said I was never moving here. I was never going to do water aerobics, kayaking, and volleyball," said Rita, “Now I’ll never say never.”