Paragon Awards                           Presented By

Florence Werner (USA)

2021 Paragon Award / Recreational Swimming


Florence Werner was an active American Red Cross Instructor for over 50 years. For Mrs. Werner, swimming was her life. And although today she is retired, “Flo” as she is fondly called, continues to offer guidance to both swimmers and instructors alike.


She began her teaching career in 1961 at the Curtis Pool, just a few blocks from downtown Miami. The most important thing in Werner’s life was teaching people to swim, young and old, and making them safe.


Every weekday for many summers, Flo would pack up the other most important things - her four children Margaret, Michael, Carol, and baby, Cindy - and head for the pool. Each of her children as well as the children of other swimming instructors wore a red heart and could take swimming lessons for free. As the years went by, Flo’s children became good swimmers.


Every year a new group of swimming instructors showed up at Curtis Pool to replace those instructors who had moved on to the next phase of their lives. But not Flo, she remained year after year because teaching swimming was her passion and her life’s calling. Teaching swimming was her chance to change lives, save lives, and make a difference in the world.


As the years passed, Flo’s children grew up and even had children of their own. Yet Flo kept teaching. Her life took various turns along the way including divorce, moving back to her hometown of Steubenville, Ohio and remarrying and living on a farm. But there was always one constant in Flo’s life: teaching swimming.


She was not only known as a swimming teacher, but as the best swimming teacher, according to her students. She taught everyone from “tiny tots” to adults. There were so many children who were deathly afraid of the water, yet Flo calmly, nurtured, and within a couple of lessons she had then blowing bubbles, bobbing under water, climbing out of the pool and yes, swimming!


Somehow the word spread and many adults who had been afraid of the water all their lives would show up at the pool to see Flo and to hopefully, finally, learn to swim. She never let a single one of them down. With her nurturing and assuring nature Flo coaxed these adults, most of them filled with fear and anxiety, into the pool, and in just a few lessons, they were swimming. Nobody was left behind. Each and every one of them got over their fear and learned to swim. You could tell that, for most of them, it was a life-changing experience.


But for Flo, the children were the focus and the joy. Countless children came through Flo’s lessons and learned to swim. Starting off with simply getting into the pool, then blowing bubbles, through “reach and pull”, finally being able to say with full confidence, “I can’t touch but I can swim!”


In time, Flo and her husband, Val returned to Miami. Flo began teaching swimming at A.D. Barns Pool. Flo is a legend at A.D. Barns and some of the swimming instructors there today got their first lessons from Flo.


Needless to say, Flo’s dedication to teaching swimming has touched the lives of thousands of people and has surely saved the lives of many. Her dedication as an American Red Cross Certified Instructor has spanned more than 50 years and has truly been extraordinary, which is why the ARC honored Flo for her 50 years of service in 2011.

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