Like a ripple on the water, Ina Elrod’s impact is continuous and far reaching.
“It’s amazing how many people you run into in Nevada County that have gone through Ina’s program and been blessed by her,” said Chelsea Nadeau. “She’s blessed our family beyond belief.”
For more than three decades Elrod, 61, has worked as a swim instructor, helping thousands of clients, of all ages and abilities, learn to swim confidently and safely.
“She’s really good at what she does,” said Nadeau, who has been bringing her children to learn from Elrod for the past six years. “She’s taught them confidence and safety, with love and support. Everything she does is just phenomenal.”
Elrod, a German-born former figure skater, first came to the United States at the age of 19. She was working in special education in the Bay Area in the mid-1980s when she first found her passion for working in the water.
“There was a pool next door to us, and we took severely disabled kids into the pool,” she recalled. “We had a kid with cerebral palsy, and we took that kid out of the wheelchair, put him the water, put a floaty on him and that was it. He was moving by himself. And, that’s what basically sold me on water.”
Not long after that, Elrod found her way to Nevada County and has been in the foothills community ever since. She would eventually start Warm Water Fitness in Nevada City, where she would use her stern, yet loving, brand of coaching to educate her clients in both the dangers and joys that come with being in the water.
“Ina is very professional, she is very safe and teaches them the foundations of swimming and safety,” said Deborah Lockhart, who has been bringing her two children to Elrod for the past year. “I just love that they’ve had the opportunity to work with her.”
Allison Moyer said Elrod’s teaching style is what makes her so effective.
“She’s really compassionate and she’s also strict, but in a kind way,” said Moyer, who has had three children learn from Elrod over the years. “She taught our kids that water can be fun and safe at the same time. She taught them that it’s OK to have fun in the water, but you also need to be aware and pay attention to everything around you… That was ideal for me because we are around water a lot, around swimming pools, around the river and lakes, and for them to know how to get out of a not-ideal situation was so important to me.”
It’s important to Elrod as well.
“The most rewarding thing about my job is when parents call me and tell me their kid fell in the water with all their clothes on and they knew what to do, they did what I taught them,” Elrod said.
One of Elrod’s lessons for her young clients is learning how to swim fully clothed, an aspect of her class that she said parents truly appreciate.
“We own a house boat and we would not feel as comfortable and confident going out if we hadn’t gone through Ina’s program,” said Nadeau. “They are confident swimmers, so they are confident in the water. They know the risks and the joys, which is an awesome balance.”
Elrod’s focus on water safety stems from her own water-related fears.
“I’m aquaphobic,” she said. “I’ll swim in pools and I’ll go in lakes, but I’m very, very cautious. I have a fear of water because I know what can happen.”
Her safety-first foundation is part of the reason so many want their children to work with Elrod, and why there has been a waiting list to get into her classes.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
Elrod’s dedication to her younger clients sometimes went outside the pool as well. She once took a handful of students to get their hair cut so they could donate it to Locks of Love, a charity that provides custom-made hair prosthetics to disadvantaged children. She also helped one of her students, who was born with Down Syndrome, acquire specialized goggles so she could see better in the water and confidently compete on a local club swim team.
“I love all the students,” said Elrod. “They are all so unique and all so precious.”
Elrod’s impact wasn’t felt only by the young swimmers in the community. She also has worked with older clients dealing with various physical ailments, which is something that brings her great pride.
“I’m really proud that I was able to help people,” she said. “I was able to provide a place for people to deal with their physical issues and make their everyday life a little better.”
As Elrod nears retirement at the end of the month, she looked back on her career with a big smile.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said. “I just love to be able to give people a place to make themselves better, so they feel better.”
Over the years, Elrod’s time in the pool has taken a physical toll and she said it’s time for her to start the next chapter in her life. When she looks back on her time in the community, and with her clients, she is filled with gratitude.
“I’ve been so blessed and so lucky,” she said. “How many people get up in the morning and get to go to work, rather than have to go to work?
“I would like to thank the community for the support all these years. People have really stepped up and stood behind me and they keep coming. And, all the parents who have trusted me with their kids, with their most valued possessions, they’ve trusted me all these years. I really, really would like to thank the whole community for that.”
Her clients are grateful for her as well.
“She’s going to be missed,” said Moyer. “She’s been the go-to swim teacher in Nevada County for many, many years. Our community is so lucky to have had her for as long as we did. Personally, our family wishes her all the best, and can only hope she feels the love we have for her in her retirement. Go enjoy your play time, Ina.”
Elrod said she will be getting a puppy and moving to Indiana in retirement, but has a feeling she won’t be able to stay away from the pool for too long.
“I know I’ll miss the kids,” she said. “I have a feeling I’m going to find a pool and do just a little bit.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email firstname.lastname@example.org