SELLWOOD, Ore. -- It’s Thursday morning and Debb Chapman is in the water at one of her favorite places: Sellwood pool. “I'm gonna position her on the wall the way I’d like you to come off the wall please," she says to a group of children along the wall.
She's working on what she calls "little miracles," teaching the children to swim. Debb's a fixture here.
“I think she's been here since when I was born ha, ha, ha! I'm pretty sure she told me that,” said Christine Halvorson. Her 6-year-old daughter, Charlie is learning from Chapman.
Debb started teaching kids and adults to swim 42 years ago. She’s taught at Portland public pools for 28 years. Each day still holds the promise of an amazing instant. “It's the moment when they float the first time,” she explained. “And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a child or an adult, that magical moment that you hold in your hands.”
Chapman believes this is her life's calling. “My passion has always been my love of the water. If I were any place and there was water, there was this magnetic draw. I've said and I will say if there was a past life I was a dolphin.”
At 56-years old, Debb's never married, never had kids. She was open to it. Things just didn’t work out.
“These are my children. And then they go home with somebody else, which is okay. It wasn’t my plan, I came from a big family. I would have liked to have had a family but ah, just didn’t happen," she said.
Instead she focuses here at the pool, coaching swimmers and their swim instructors. “What would you say about his chin position?" she asked an instructor while looking at a swimmer in the water.
Debb loves her work and the water. She believes it holds healing powers. She’s felt it herself. “Breast cancer's been a challenge," she said.
Doctors first diagnosed her in 2000. She got treatment and it went away. But more recently the cancer returned, forcing a mastectomy. “Absolutely devastating,” she said. She struggled, worrying about the cancer and her body shape and how others would react.
And then the water called her back. “Three weeks after surgery an instructor was extremely ill, spontaneously, and I had to be in the water. And I really got it that water was going to be my therapy also. It’s my glad place in my heart and physically I was able to overcome some of the struggles that come with the surgeries,” Chapman said.
She realized her passion and talent had nothing to do with how she looked.
So she's in the pool, helping children like 6-year-old Charlie overcome her fear of jumping into the deep end. At first Charlie cried with fear. But with Debb’s reassuring words, Charlie got brave and jumped.
And then she jumped again.
Another little miracle, accomplished.