19 July 2023

Lozza's legacy: the swim instructor who saved lives by introducing hundreds of kids to the water

| Keeli Royle
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Lozza in pool at McKeon's with kid and parent.

Parents have shared the impact Lozza made on their kids’ lives. Photo: Supplied/Louisa Gayland.

Lorraine Breska thought she would quietly sneak out the back door on her last day at McKeon’s Swim School, but after 15 years and teaching hundreds of kids, she couldn’t escape the praise that came her way.

Lorraine, best known as Lozza, met the McKeon family while caravanning on the South Coast and for years they were determined to get her as part of their team after seeing her skills firsthand.

“I had a special relationship with a family from Merry Beach who’s son had cerebral palsy,” Lozza said. “I used to take him out the back in the waves, and he used to have lots of fun in a rubber round ring keeping him afloat.”

She started teaching kids at the centre as young as six months old, and watched them develop a love for the water.

“I love seeing the babies become aware of the water and gain confidence,” Lozza said. “A lot become water babies which we have all seen in Emma and David McKeon who followed their parents to become role models for many Australians.”

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Centre director Susie McKeon said Lozza had a special quality that helped her connect with the kids.

“It was everything about her, she just showed that she loved the children and they loved her back; she had fun with them but also got the best out of them,” Susie said. “She became part of their family inside the pool; we’d often find they’d have one child with Lozza and then they’d want another child who’d want Lozza as well.

“I believe confidence, patience and fun are the main ingredients to become a good teacher and to gain the children’s respect,” Lozza said. “I never pushed them to put their head in the water, because some children just didn’t want to do it but I’d get around it by saying, ‘Don’t put your eyes in the water, how about your head?’ so they’d just bob it in.”

“Also, I’d take their mind off being scared by talking about their dogs, cats, birds at home or if they were playing football, soccer or anything like that.”

Lorraine Breska and Emma McKeon at McKeon's Swim centre pool.

Lozza has been part of the family at McKeon’s Swim School for more than a decade. Photo: McKeon’s Swim School.

But she had plenty of laughs along the way too.

“I used to call them ‘Sausage-head’, ‘Frankfurt’, ‘Possum’ – the main reason is I’m shocking with names.”

“The funniest part is I had a lot of identical twins,” Lozza said. “The mum would say, ‘Oh, he’s got the blue goggles,’ and the kids would swap their goggles over, so it was a lot of fun there.”

Since she announced she was heading into retirement, thankful parents have been sharing stories of the impact Lozza had on their kids’ lives.

Local mum Kelly Andrews said while all her children went through McKeon’s, her son was a particularly challenging case.

“He was just one of those kids that hated being in the water and it was really traumatic and distressing for everybody,” she said. “He also hated anyone touching his head, we couldn’t even get him to a hairdresser.”

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Kelly said they had already tried other instructors but had not found any success.

But Lozza’s persistence and perseverance made her the perfect fit.

“She just had the right amount of experience but also firmness – she was fair but firm – and she just made us all feel really safe and that it was always going to be fun and that he wasn’t going to be pushed and distressed.”

Ten years on, those skills have become an important part of the day-to-day.

“It allows him to do other things with his friends, like snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, he can do all these things,” Kelly said. “If he didn’t have the fundamentals around water safety, he wouldn’t have the teenage life that he has now.”

Another parent, Leia Thompson, said Lozza taught her kids Penelope and Angus to swim from the age of three.

“I remember when my daughter started she was so scared of Lozza’s loud voice but five minutes into the lesson and Penelope loved her,” Leia said. “Lozza had her conquering her fears within weeks and she progressed quickly.

“Both my kids have gone through to squad training. I am always thankful of the foundations Lozza laid to help them become confident in the water.”

Penelope and Angus at McKeons swim school pool.

Penelope and Angus were both taught by Lozza and are now in squad training. Photo: Supplied/Leia Thompson.

And as well as her skills in the pool, the parents and kids both loved her personality.

“She had high expectations, good feedback but was always ready for a laugh,” Louisa Gayland said. “We appreciated that!”

“She was always kind, had a great sense of humor with the kids and a really great rapport with both children and parents alike,” Kristina Jankulovska said.

But although Lozza loved all the kids she taught, it was her work with disability providers which she found most rewarding.

“I was teaching babies, infants and adults but my passion was special needs,” Lozza said. “I worked with Aspect Corrimal, Dapto High, Parameadows and did private lessons.

“To see a person out of a wheelchair and in the pool swimming along fantastic with the biggest smile is a wonderful sight.”

She’s now looking forward to a well earned break and playing bingo.

“Lots of family time, I’ll be going down to paradise which is Merry Beach and catching up with a lot of people down there and more or less living the dream.”

And although Lozza is no longer teaching, you still may catch her at McKeon’s from time to time.

“I will still be going down there doing walking in the pool just to keep my body going,” she said. “If you don’t use it you lose it.”

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