is whole life, retired engineer Jim
Liskovec had lived with hydrophobia, or an abnormal fear of water.
His fear was so crippling, he wasn’t able to fully enjoy some
of the best experiences of life with his wife, Sue, an avid
snorkeler. And it seemed his retirement would be no
In May 2002,
he and Sue took a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Spending most of
his time on shore while she went on marine excursions, Liskovec
decided it was time to conquer his fear and contact M. Ellen
“Melon” Dash, founder of the Transpersonal Swimming
Institute in Berkeley, Calif.
Dash’s institute has been offering classes around the country
for people with hydrophobia. In 22 years, she has helped more than
2,800 people overcome their dread of the deep. Her technique
focuses on psyche rather than swimming mechanics — something
Dash argues is missing from other swim schools.
many people agree. Last year, class revenues were up 32 percent
over 2004. Sales of her instructional video, “How to Overcome
Your Fear and Discomfort in Water, Shallow and Deep,” jumped
25 percent for 2005 as well.
If you think
her brand of hydrotherapy is in short demand, think again.
According to a 1998 Gallup survey commissioned by the Transpersonal
Swimming Institute, 46 percent of adults in the United States said
they were afraid of deep pool water. Thirty-nine percent said they
were scared to put their heads under water. And 63 percent reported
having a fear of deep open water, such as oceans, lakes and
it’s not just a national problem. People have come from as
far as Brazil, Venezuela and Italy to learn Dash’s
“Miracle Swimming” method.
teachers are either unaware of the pandemic or don’t know how
to treat it, according to Dash. “There is a common belief
held by most swim instructors that if you’re afraid of water,
you just need to learn how to swim, and learning how to swim will
take away your fear,” says the former American Red Cross swim
instructor. “That is a completely incorrect
Dash has tried to get that message across to people in her line of
work, but she has met with some resistance. She’s made
numerous attempts to sell her method to the Red Cross or YMCA, who
question its merits. “I think they feel they’re the
only people who know how to teach swimming, and you can’t
teach them,” Dash says.
she’s not getting the attention of the industry, she’s
certainly getting it from the public. In January, she appeared on
NBC’s “Today” show for a piece about New
Year’s resolutions. She’s also been featured on
“CNN Headline News” and has had 25 articles written
about her company. Foreign interest has been stirred as well, with
London’s Independent TV One licensing a five-minute segment
from her video for a self-help series that will air this
her book, Conquer Your Fear of Water: An Innovative
Self-Discovery Course in Swimming (AuthorHouse, Bloomington,
Ind.), was just released in January. It outlines the methods
applied in her beginning course. Dash believes it’s a
significant step toward raising awareness of hydrophobia and
garnering more acceptance of her ideas industrywide.
— Joshua Keim