By Brooklyn Brown
Mike Creason is retiring from teaching swimming lessons at Western Carolina University after 48 years of service to mountain communities.
Creason is a double alumnus of WCU, earning his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 1972 and his master’s degree in education in 1974. He served as the Intramural Sports Director and an assistant professor of health and physical education, working at WCU for 29 years before retiring in 2004.
Creason has taught generations of families how to swim. The exact number is immeasurable. “48 years covers a lot. I've had some grandparents come up and make comments about, ‘Well, you taught me and you taught my son, and now you're teaching my grandson,’” Creason said. “I'm thankful for those opportunities and that can only come from the special power of Jesus to have that kind of opportunity for that long. I always pray and ask for the Lord's involvement continually. It's His program and I have the opportunity to be there to help out. Jesus Christ is the center of all of this and that's the reason that things have gone so well through the years.”
Creason’s passion for the program is apparent in his approach and advocacy for swim. “Research indicates that swimming and learning to swim improves self-esteem,” Creason said. “It’s something that adds to your character. If a person is happy and enjoying things like swimming and learning skills, your body is healthier overall. You look forward to a lot of things in life that other people might be nervous about. If you start developing confidence in the water, you can start developing confidence in other things in your life. It's a way of initiating a learning pattern.”
In Creason’s swim lessons in the Reid Gymnasium Pool, the happiness is contagious. “When those smiles come across the parents' faces, grandparents' faces and the children's faces, it's all worth it,” he said. “I really enjoy seeing them improve their aquatic skills. I enjoy seeing them grow and develop, and they don't forget it.”
Creason also works as a substitute teacher and his students often recognize him from swim lessons. “I was subbing at a high school and this girl came in and she looked at me and she says, ‘You taught me when I was a baby,’ and I said, ‘Well, I'm glad. Did I do anything good? Can you still swim?’ She said, ‘Yeah,” he laughed.
In his last two weeks of teaching swim, Creason is still helping children reach new goals. “I have excellent swimming assistants, and they alleviate the fears and problems that some of the children have,” he said. “The littlest girl I have in the class just swam 60 feet. I knew she could swim that length. In my mind, I felt like she could do it. I asked her if she'd like to try, and she jumped in. Her dad was there and saw her do it.”
Since Creason was a child growing up in Winston Salem, he’s loved sports and making up activities. He carries that creativity and fun into his lessons. One of the kids’ favorite activities is a simple game of retrieving rings and sticks from the water. “At the end, we put our hands together and say ‘Go team!’ because I always tell them we're a team. We're working together so that everybody can have a good experience and learn more skills in the water.”
Creason is looking forward to spending quality time with his children who are starting families. “I want to be a good grandpa,” he said. “’Papaw,’ whatever they want to call me.”
WCU is planning to continue the swim program next summer. Those plans will be announced next year.