I had been writing this column for two years when it dawned on me that I needed to get a grip on what I do in my own freetime. After writing about so many interesting people, I felt I should at least try to do something notable.

A chance visit to a Red Cross exhibit at a trade show motivated me. I love to swim, and I have a great respect for the Red Cross swimming program. I decided to work toward a certification in water safety instruction (WSI).

I enrolled in night classes and learned everything from the correct way to teach a flip turn to how to coax a scared kid into the deep end of a pool. After about 50 hours of classes and a couple of exams, I became a card-carrying, certified, Red Cross swimming teacher.

My plan was to get the WSI certification and stop. Then I realized I loved teaching swimming lessons. So, to make a long story short, I become a swimming teacher in my spare time.

For the second summer in a row, I am teaching swimming lessons to infants, toddlers and adults. My youngest student is 6 months old; the oldest is over 70. Some of my students are too young to talk, can’t walk, or aren’t tall enough to keep their heads above water unless they hold on to the side of the pool. Tomorrow night I’ll be at the neighborhood pool with a group of 3-year-old kids trying to sweet-talk them into putting their faces in the water.

Besides the little kids, my students include physicians, retired military officers, computer consultants and even an FBI agent. They take swimming lessons for all kinds of reasons: to learn to breathe while swimming, to train for a triathlon or simply to learn how to float.

Swimming lessons are not the only thing I’ve ended up doing in my free time. Earlier this year I added another item to my list of personal swimming goals; I decided I would compete in the local Senior Olympic games. I figured it would be years away for me, and in the meantime, I could leisurely train for the event.

I was wrong. While leafing through the newspaper a few months ago, I had a big surprise. This year’s Senior Olympic games had been announced, and in the fine print it said, “Open to all adults age 50 and over. Must turn 50 in the year 2003.”

Whoa. That meant me. With less than a month to train, I randomly selected a couple of events and sent in my $24 entrance fee. I registered for the 50-yard freestyle and the 50-yard breaststroke events. My theory was by competing in the shortest races possible, it would limit the amount of humiliation I would have to endure.

Race day arrived. I assumed — wrongly — that the event was more recreational than competitive, so I showed up wearing flip-flops. My pink beach towel was my warm-up suit. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Like we did in grade school, the boys and girls sat on separate sides of the pool. The other swimmers were kind and friendly and took me under their wing. After we finished a race, one of the competitors in my age group said, “No wonder you don’t seem very nervous. You have no idea about what’s going on here.”

She was right. I didn’t have a clue.

My husband was hoarse from hollering at me to swim faster (actually, we can’t print his exact words). I was just relieved to know I didn’t break any of the race rules and get disqualified. What could be more embarrassing for a swimming teacher than to get kicked out of a swimming event?

Luckily, I went home with two medals, and my name was published in the sports section of the paper, a first for me.

I already set my next goal: to compete in the 500-yard event in next year’s local Senior Olympics. This time, I promise to train harder. I will also study the Senior Olympics’ Rules of Competition, including the one that says, “all athletes must wear athletic-type clothing and shoes that are usual and customary for the sport in which they are competing.”

I plan to leave the pink beach towel and the flip-flops at home.

Gretchen Roufs, a 15-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at (210) 601-4572. Email questions or comments.