Nnadi… The swim guru on a mission to get Nigerians swimming
There are a million and one creatures living in the deep sea. Some are dangerous to human beings, others are indifferent, but the fear of the unknown usually drives people away from ‘dangerous’ waters. To many, the deep sea is not a place to play and, certainly, not where sane people should go for recreation.
Everyday, hundreds of Africans die in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in their quest for better life in Europe. But there are people, who believe that many lives would be saved if only these ‘better life seekers’ know how to swim properly.
One of such persons is Emeka Chuks Nnadi, popularly known as Swim Guru, who says his mission is to ensure that as many Africans as possible learn how to swim properly.
Nnadi, who returned to Nigeria two years ago from Spain, where he runs a swimming club and also a tourism company, was at The Guardian recently to share his dream of turning the country into one large swimming club.
He said: “I started swimming at the age of nine and took to coaching at the age of 16 or 17. I started coaching pre-school kids first when I was teaching at IITA in Ibadan and from there; I have been coaching all my life.
“I have had an events and Tourism Company in Spain for so many years… that was the second company I have built in my life. I was running it until COVID-19 happened, which destroyed everything in events and tourism industry, so I had to give it up and close down the company.”
On coming back to Nigeria, Nnadi didn’t set out to start teaching people how to swim. He said he came to the country to spend some time because he hadn’t visited for many years.
He explained: “I was thinking of an intellectual project that would involve the Ministry of Education and things like that, but then everything changed when I started going to swim at Oniru Beach.
“Every day I went to swim there, I had some children living in nearby tents with their parents waiting for me to come out. If I spent two hours or five, they would wait there patiently until I come out; and then, they would start clapping for me.
“So, when one of them approached and begged me to teach him how to swim, saying he would like to be like me when he grows up, I knew it was time to do something about the way Nigerians see swimming. I told him that I would not only teach him how to swim, but would also make him an Olympic champion. I started teaching him right away.
“I was super impressed, because he learnt very fast. However, while I was teaching him, one of the managers at Oniru Beach came and told me to stop. He said he didn’t want the boy to die in the ‘dangerous water.’
“On inquiry, he confessed that he had been told that I spend so many hours inside the water, adding, that he had been ordered to stop me from taking the children to the water.
“I tried to explain what I was doing, but the man didn’t listen to me. He threatened to stop me from entering Oniru Beach if I continued to draw the kids to the water. So, I stopped.
“I got very upset at that point, but it also made me to decide to change our peoples’ mindset about swimming.”
Nnadi disclosed that even before the Oniru Beach incident, he had thought of doing something about swimming in Africa, especially in Nigeria, to address the ‘swimming injustice’ going on in the world.
He also said that before he returned to Nigeria, he had been thinking of how to help stop the incessant drowning of Africans in the Mediterranean Sea and even swimming pools, adding that victims would have been saved if they knew how to swim properly.
“I was saddened by the recent news about the kids who drowned in a swimming pool in Ajah. Black people are dying careless and preventable deaths, because we have all these weird knowledge about mermaids, fear of the water and our mothers always tell us not to go to the sea, because it will swallow us.
“I am lucky that my family wasn’t like that when I was growing up. But the Oniru Beach kids lit this fire in me to change the narrative.
“Initially, I wanted to go back to Barcelona out of frustration because Oniru Beach managers did not allow me to take the kids, who had become like part of my family, to the sea. In Barcelona, we live by the sea, where nothing stops you from jumping into the water. But I changed my mind and decided to come home because this is my country,” he said.
Nnadi is surprised that some people easily get tired when they swim, saying that such individuals would enjoy a painless exercise when they start swimming conventionally.
“When people complain of pains while swimming, I tell them that they are doing it wrongly. Swimming is supposed to relieve or heal your pains when you do it properly. It is a form of therapy and normally, if you have a broken bone or those sort of things, doctors would tend you through the swimming therapy. So, swimming is therapeutic.”
Nnadi said he decided to put his life on hold and dedicate some years to teaching Africans how to swim, adding: “With all the climate destruction we have going on, I believe that sooner or later, we may be having bigger climate disasters that would affect people a lot.
“I hope I would be the one to teach millions of Africans how to swim so that when danger comes, we will have enough people to rebuild the continent. In Lagos, it is important to note that many rich people in Lekki have boats in their homes. But I tell them that the boats will not save them if they don’t know how to swim. When a boat is hit by a tsunami and the occupants don’t know how to swim, they will be in serious trouble. So, the only way to save African lives and ensure the people survive as a race in this context, is to start learning how to swim.”
He continued: “Disasters happen in America and many of them survive because they know how to swim; the ones that die due to such events are just few. Americans easily get relief during disasters, but here in Africa, we do not have such reliefs.”
The Swim Guru said his ambition is to build an army of swimming coaches and a movement of supporters that will take the campaign to churches, mosques and schools. He revealed that he has swimmimg balls that he attaches to his students’ waists before introducing them to the sea to familiarise with the big water.
“I think that one of my latest accomplishments is a 60-year-old woman whom I am yet to give a class. She was terrified of water, but now she wants to join my class.
“People say there are dangerous creatures in the sea, but the thing about African seas is that they are generally safe. There are places in America where they have spotted sharks and whales and other dangerous big creatures. Those places are known to have such and so are avoided.
“From my investigations when I swam in seas in America, Europe and in Africa, the thing about our seas is that there have not been stories of spotting a shark or whale, so our beaches are generally safe.
“Apart from jellyfishes, which sting is quite painful, there is nothing else. Most of the time, the sea animals are scared of us. We humans are like water terrorists. The only time these animals attack human beings is when they feel threatened, otherwise, they just run away. These creatures do not go to shallow water bodies and where human beings go to when at the beach, is often not dangerous.”
On the reception to his project, which he started three months ago, he said many Nigerians are beginning to understand what he is preaching about.
“The reception has been really good, but I am looking, hopefully, to get support from the government. If the government is willing to support us, put their stamp on what we are doing, we will be fine.
“I have already sent in a few proposals and I am still expecting a call from the Ministry of Sports. I am currently working with nobody right now, but I hope to work with the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, as well as the Ministry of Education.
“The biggest support we can get from government is their seal of approval. If government can give us a piece of land to build our swimming academy, it would make a big impact on the project
“If the government says, ‘Look, we will give you a place in every youth centre for you to reach the youths,’ that would be a huge contribution to our mission of making Nigerians better swimmers.
“But, it is also okay if they don’t want to do anything, because this campaign is a movement that aims to sensitise people… it is not meant to depend on government support.”
The target of the operation, according to Nnadi, is to train as many coaches as possible, who will then take the message to all areas of Africa.
He added: “We will employ many youths as fresh coaches. I am mostly looking for university graduates, who have no experience in this field, so that we will coach them from scratch. So, even if no one supports us with money, I am sure we can raise enough money by teaching people and using the money we get from them as fees to build the swimming academy in three years and also be able to fund all the work we will do with the poor, the disabled and the needy.”
Meanwhile, Nnadi is particular about working with people with special needs, whom, he said, could become critical contributors to national development.
“I am waiting for the Disabilities Commission to respond to my letter, because the idea is to get people that would become passionate about swimming from the disabled group in Nigeria. They could go to the Paralympics and bring us some gold medals too. So, if we can discover their strengths in these areas, that would be awesome.”
The Anambra State-born Psychology graduate, who also has degrees in Hospitality Management and Innovative Hospitality, told The Guardian that he is in contact with the current government of the state, adding, however, that discussions are still at the early stage.
“I am already talking to someone in the state and he is passionate about this project. Even though he is currently busy with other things, I am trying to see if I can use him as the state’s representative.
“I am just one person and I can’t do everything all by myself. So, I recruit people, train them and delegate duties to the qualified ones. I want to be in Anambra State too, but I cannot be everywhere. I cannot reach out to all of Africa the way I want if I don’t do my job as a proper manager and get people to work with me.
“When I started the swimming-one day project, I knew it wasn’t my personal project and now that I have done a lot of coaching, it is so much easier to help people get over their phobia and learn how to swim. I have a big plan for Anambra State, especially, because it has rivers. Hopefully, I will get the state’s buy in into the project.”
Nnadi disclosed that the project is open to anybody interested in joining, adding that all the prospective swimming expert has to do is to visit his Instagram page ‘swim in 1 day’ to register.
“You will see ‘life coach swim guru’ when you type in and that is the major selling point because I want people to understand that I have a unique talent as a swimming coach. I want them to also understand that they will not just get swimming skills, but also lose their fear of the water and the courage to get them where they need to be once they believe they can. Fear is just a state of the mind and it is there because we haven’t given it any other challenge. When we give it the challenge it deserves, the state of mind can become something greater.”
Nnadi’s organisation in Nigeria, Swim In One Day Charity Initiative, is a variant of his European project, Swim In One Day Africa Initiative. The project aims at covering every part of the world and teaching Africans how to swim properly.
“This project’s aim is to take care of all black and coloured people everywhere, especially those who have all sorts of trauma and fear about water and other bad experiences. We will help them overcome it all.
“We have made it affordable, but we have also made it free for motivated poor people. We are looking forward to making it free for public schools once we raise enough money. The idea is to discover all those passionate young people who can represent Nigeria in the Olympics. We will get this class of swimmers scholarships and enroll them for professional training.”
He disclosed that his organisation is on the verge of signing a contract with an Olympic size swimming pool, where he will take the kids to continue their training.
“We are open to every other people; we can go to where they are if they cannot come to us. Our campaign slogan is ‘Better safe than sorry.’ I always feel sad when bad things happen and people say it would not have happened if they knew so, so and so.
“We want to motivate people to start doing things for themselves… we want to remind them that it is better to be safe than sorry. We are looking for goodwill ambassadors that will help us spread the message.”