It's been a secret our Dr. Frank McGeorge has shared with only a handful of people -- until now.

"I cannot swim, and I've always wanted to learn how to swim, and it's really been a source of embarrassment all my life," said McGeorge.  "I have done stories where I have told people that they need to learn how to swim, and how important it is to learn how to swim, knowing full well that I, myself, was not a swimmer."

He's far from alone.  A recent poll by the American Red Cross found that while 8 in 10 people feel confident that they can swim, less than half of those surveyed actually have the skills necessary to pass a basic swimming safety test.  A whopping 37 percent of adults can't swim the length of a typical pool.

Access An Issue

"In the city where I grew up, there were not a lot of pools available.  There wasn't a lot of opportunity to learn," said McGeorge about growing up in Chicago.  "My mom was a single parent, she was Chinese, so it may have been a cultural thing, but learning to swim, when I was a kid, was just never a priority."

Not that he hasn't tried to learn since.

"I can't even count the number of times I've tried to learn how to swim over the years," he said.  "I have tried to learn to swim dozens of times over the years.  And for whatever reason, I don't know if it's synchrony, or lack of it, buoyancy or a lack of it, I can't seem to get it right."

In spite of not being able to swim, McGeorge loves being near the water.  But he knows there's an added risk for him.

"Boating is an especially important part of my life because I enjoy fishing. I enjoy pulling my kids on a tube," he said.  "The simple fact is, if my boat were to tip over, or if something were to happen to my kids on the tube behind me, there's nothing that I can do to help. I would, frankly, drown."

That scenario is motivating him to take the plunge again.

"If something were to happen to my kids, and I were unable to help them or save them, that would actually be far worse than if something happened to me," he said.

To coach him along this time, McGeorge has a very special instructor -- Olympic swimmer Peter Vanderkaay.

Vanderkaay, a Rochester-native, is a three-time Olympian who brought home three gold medals and a bronze.  He's also an ambassador for Detroit Swims, a program through the Boll Family YMCA in Detroit that teaches inner city kids how to swim.

Drowning Is A Serious Problem

"It's a big problem in this country, it's the second leading cause of death among kids, accidental death, and if you're a minority, you're much more likely to be susceptible to drowning," said Vanderkaay.

That's also true for adults.

"I think with adults the biggest problem is they feel like they are too far along to learn it, so they don't want to try," said Vanderkaay.  "They've come their whole life without having to swim, and my message to them is to get out there and give it a try."

With that message in mind, Vanderkaay and McGeorge got to work at the Boll Family YMCA.

Learning how to swim is hard enough.  Learning how to swim with a TV crew following you is an added challenge.  


"I'm really worried that I'm going to make myself look stupid, or look like a fool because this is something that I've held as a little bit of a secret," he said.  "And going in the water with an Olympic swimmer, to learn how to swim, seems almost ridiculous to me."

Setting those worries aside, Vanderkaay quickly had McGeorge looking like a swimmer with goggles and a swim cap.

"Looking like a swimmer and swimming are two different things," he said.

McGeorge called Vanderkaay his "Zen master" of the water.

"When I talk about a feel for the water, it's kind of this abstract thought, but the more you do it the better you get," explained Vanderkaay.