06/17/2013 02:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Moms Change the World: Deanna Kendall


There is a spirit to motherhood that nurtures, that exudes compassion and loves unconditionally. These qualities are not exclusive to women who give birth. Deanna Kendall is one of those moms. She has worked for over twenty-three years educating people about aquatic skill and safety. Basically, Kendall saves and protects adults and children who are at risk.

This Colombian wife and mom of two children has dedicated her life to the well-being of others. When she was in her early thirties, she and her husband learned that she would not be able to bear children. Committed to being parents, they decided to adopt. They reached out to a friend who was connected to an agency, and within a few months they were bringing home their son. The adoption happened much faster than they'd intended, forcing them to cancel a trip they'd planned to Europe. A few years later, after expressing a willingness to adopt again, they were shortly the parents of a infant daughter.

As a swim and water-safety instructor, Kendall says that as soon as children are ready, she has them in the water. And though she loves teaching children, it's adults that really inspire her. "Often, they come to me ashamed that they can't swim," she says. According to a CDC study, 37 percent of adults in the US cannot swim the entire length of a pool. Kendall offers her heart and soul to these adults who are willing to trust her with their fears and phobias. She walks through the darkness and into the light with each student. "There is nothing like meeting an adult where they are, with all their hope, their dreams, and the fear mixed together. Finally they surrender, and through belief and hard work, these adults meet their lifelong goal of swimming. I have a gift," says Kendall, "I'm not the best or fastest swimmer but a have a gift that allows me to help adults move through their fear of drowning so that I can teach them to swim. Recently. a woman I taught to swim texted me from Hawaii with her family. She was so grateful that for the first time she was able to join them in the water activities. The picture of her in her snorkeling gear not only changed her life, but mine as well. I know the value of creating these memories."

Kendall says she believes everyone has what she calls fortaleza, "fortitude" in English. "It's that inner power and strength that you need to accomplish lifelong goals, like learning to swim as an adult. Everyone needs someone to believe in them until they can find their own fortaleza," she says with a sweet sparkle in her eye. Kendall credits her own inner strength as a gift from her Colombian mother, who uncomplainingly worked hard to make the best of what she had. Kendall believes that her fortaleza not only supports her as a swim instructor, but also underlies her work with couples moving through the adoption process. As one who feels blessed by being able to adopt, Kendall makes the effort to help others have the same wonderful experience.

Just as we were ending our time together, Kendall's three-year-old daughter, Siena, approached me to give me a card she'd made for me. She was so yummy I could hardly resist giving her the biggest kiss and hug. Kendall explained how much her daughter had changed since coming to live with their family. Initially Siena was not interested in physical contact. "Kisses are disgusting," she'd say. But over time that started to change, and now she knows she can come to mommy at anytime for "cuddle island," and she's become the most affectionate little girl.

Kendall has discovered her own fortaleza, which allows her to believe in her ability to change the world. She lets nothing stop her from nurturing and giving of herself. Not being able to conceive didn't stop her from becoming a parent, and others' fears of water and drowning don't stop her from turning them into swimmers. Her ability to nurture is far reaching, extending not only to landlubbers longing to dive into the deep end, but to everyone she touches.

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