Two kids and two adults smile while swimming
Gretchen Roufs, far right, teaches swimming lessons to kids with Down Syndrome and their families. From left: Muñeca, her father, Jay and sister, Dulce

Happy 75th anniversary, Sanitary Maintenance! I love milestones and the reflecting back, the looking forward and, most importantly, celebrating with the people who make the milestones possible. Especially the people I’ve been writing about for the past 18 years.

These Freetime folks — about 175 of them — are inspiring. And interesting. They remind us about work-life balance. Their stories encourage us to be passionate about pursuing the things that we love. 

In paging through my scrapbook, I saw this comment in my July 2003 column: “It dawned on me that I needed to get a grip on what I do in my own free time … I felt I should at least try to do something notable.” So, I enrolled in night classes and became a card-carrying Red Cross swimming instructor. I’m still teaching swimming lessons — and loving it. 

Every Sunday morning in the summer, I teach swimming classes for 6-month-to-2-year-old kids, accompanied by their parents. Some of them might not yet walk or talk, but they blow bubbles, kick, jump, splash with their arms and get their heads wet. 

While the lessons are about swimming, they’re also about safety. A dad once said to me, “You saved my son’s life.” I was so touched. The boy jumped into the deep end of the pool at home, and because of swimming lessons, he knew to reach for the edge of the pool and hold on tight.  

Whenever I’m doing swimming lessons, I have a full, happy heart. My heart gets even fuller when I’m swimming with kids with Down Syndrome and their families. 

This is my second year of teaching swim classes for the Down Syndrome Association of South Texas. On Sunday afternoons, I teach 5-to-18-year-old kids with Down Syndrome and their siblings. We float on our backs, swim underwater, dive for toys, kick, use “strong arms,” and jump off the side of the pool. 

When I think about passion for a free time activity, nobody does it better than my Down Syndrome kids and their families when they’re swimming. They, like me, are enamored with being in the pool. Especially my two BFFs, sisters Dulce (12) and Muñeca (10), who I met last year and swam with for weeks after the classes ended, along with their parents, Marisa and Jay. The first time I met them, Dulce walked into the pool, sat down, and shouted, “I love this!” It’s been an equally exuberant and passionate experience ever since. Not just for Dulce, but for all of us. 

Each time I write this column, and every time I swim with Dulce and Muñeca, I am grateful for the reminder that one of the greatest blessings in life is to be passionate about what we do. Especially in our free time. 

Gretchen Roufs, a 25-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “Freetime,” contact her at