But two years ago she became a mother and was determined her son would be at ease around water so when he was just 11 weeks old, she let go of him in a swimming pool.
This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds because although the Dublin woman did let her baby float by himself, he was under the watchful eye of the Water Babies swimming teachers at his first Splish Slash class.
“There was no pool near my school so I never learned to swim when I was young,” recalls Orla, now 36. “Then when I got older I went for swimming lessons with a friend but the life guard laughed at me and I was so embarrassed that I never went back.
“My husband Ronan (40) couldn’t swim either and I always swore I would make my children learn before they became too self-conscious. So when Senan was 11-weeks-old, I took him to his first Water Babies swimming class. I was prepared to get over my own issues with swimming for his sake but the thought of dropping him and not being able to get to him nearly put me off taking the class.
“I really shouldn’t have worried though as the teachers were beside us every step of the way and made me feel completely at ease.”
But although the new mother felt confident with her baby’s coaches, she still found it extremely difficult to release the grip on her child.
“When I let go of Senan for the first time it was a big shock,” she admits. He wasn’t even three months old and I had to let go of him in the pool — it felt totally unreal. But he had this wondrous look on his face. The water was lovely and warm and he loved it right from the start.
“I knew babies held their breath instinctively when they went under water but it still felt completely wrong to me and when he went under I held my breath too — I’d say I continued to hold it for most of the first term.
“Even now, whenever he dives in or I let him go under the water my heart nearly explodes although my brain knows it’s completely safe. I’m not going to let my fears hold him back but I am always there ready to grab him.”
The Dublin boy is now two and has just begun his new swimming term. His obvious love of the water has prompted his land-loving parents to start lessons themselves. so the whole family can enjoy the experience.
“Senan just started back this week and it is amazing how confident he has become,” says Orla. “I sit him on the edge of the pool while I get in, then he dives into the water on his own and I pick him up when he reaches the surface. He can swim like a little seal now and absolutely loves keeping his face in the water and kicking away. I can’t tell you how excited he gets when I mention bath or that we are going to Splish Splash.
“And when we got into the pool this week he spent the whole class screeching with excitement. He asks every day if he can go to the swimming pool.
“To keep up with our son, Ronan and I took an intensive swimming course last Easter. We are both still pretty rubbish and have to practice a lot but I just can’t wait to be able to jump into the pool as a family for a swim and know none of us will drown.”
Denise Ganley and her husband David have recently set up the programme of Water Babies Splish Splash classes in and around Cork. She says learning to swim at an early age is a huge advantage for youngsters.
“It’s great to be able to set up a new business which combines my two passions — swimming and children,” she says.
“Baby swimming is such a wonderful way to exercise, bond and have fun while your child learns a valuable life- saving skill.
“The earlier a child starts swimming, the less likely they are to develop a fear of water. I know some parents are nervous about putting their baby into a pool of water but they needn’t be as all our teachers are highly qualified, they go through rigorous training in order to provide a fun and safe environment for everyone in the pool.
“All our lessons have been developed to teach key water safety skills with a touch of Water Babies magic, so it is a fun activity for everyone.”
* To find out more about Water Babies swimming lessons visit www.waterbabies.ie or call on 021-2428426.