LAREDO, TEXAS (KGNS) - After nearly drowning as a child, Maritza Gomez admits she was terrified of water. But with the right encouragement, she faced her fears and is now passing on her knowledge, to help prevent future drowning accidents.
"I got pushed in and I was drowning, and I was all the way down to the drain." Maritza talks about a near drowning incident that changed her life. When she was a second grader, she snuck off to a 12 foot deep pool with some classmates, and not knowing how to swim, found herself in trouble. Luckily a couple at the pool came to her rescue.
"He picked me up and I remember just swallowing the entire universe into my lungs and throwing up lots of water. By that time I had a crowd as big as a rock star, and I was very publicly grounded."
After that scare, her mother put her in swimming classes, but it took her three years just to learn the basics. "My siblings became strong swimmers but for me, I was still scared."
That fear of the water kept her away from the pool until her high school counselor gave her a little push. "He came and told me and asked me, would you like to go to, and take a lifeguard class, and I remember smiling and said no, I can barely do the doggie paddle, those students are going to be pros."
But with more encouragement, Maritza went on to face her fear. She became a lifeguard with the City of Laredo's 'Learn to Swim' program, and later coached the Del Mar Swim Team. Today she's not only an assistant swim coach with United ISD, but an adjunct aquatics professor with TAMIU.
"I'm teaching kinesiology majors to know the strokes and to go out there and teach those students that, they'll know how to swim, so they won't end up like I did, in second grade, in a near drowning, a statistic."
Maritza says it's become her goal to teach as many students to swim as she can, in the hopes of preventing future drownings. She also tries to instill in her students, that they can overcome challenges.
"It just takes one person to believe in you, and to push you, for you to learn that hey, I can do this and I will do this."
She credits her high school counselor, Hector Rocha, for being the one who encouraged her to face her fears.
"My counselor, he was the one that brought all this about, if it wouldn't have been for him, I probably would have been that, still that second grader who was afraid of the water and did not even want to get in."
"I just tried to show her the right path, and you can show them, and if they get it and they keep on going it's very successful for them, look at her she's a very successful young lady."
"There's so many things that you can overcome if you just set your heart and goal to that."