Editor’s Note: "Swimming Lessons" will be re-released in paperback this July.

This week’s guest blogger is Sue Foster, a devoted reader who dedicates her time as a volunteer at the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital.

Summer 2007-- My life changed forever after reading “Swimming Lessons” by Mary Alice Monroe. On page 233, she writes:
“Once smitten with sea turtles, it was a love affair for life.”
How true! I loved reading the previous book, “The Beach House” that tells about the turtle ladies on Isle of Palms monitoring the turtle nests. “Swimming Lessons” introduced me to the sea turtle hospital at the SC Aquarium in Charleston. I was fascinated about the work that was being done with the rehabilitation of the sea turtles. By summer’s end, I had e-mailed the project manager, Kelly Thorvalson, about volunteering part time. Our schedules didn’t match and there were no openings in the hospital.

Fast forward to March 2009. Kelly e-mailed me and wanted to know if I would be interested in doing tours of the turtle hospital because they were expanding the tours. Would I, a retired teacher, be interested in educating people about sea turtles? Best e-mail of my life! I started May 1st.

(Here's a recent group photo of the Sea Turtle Hospital volunteers.  I'm third from the left in the back row.  Thank you, Barb Bergwerf, for sharing this snapshot.)

I finally got to see what excited the novel’s main character, Toy Sooner, in “Swimming Lessons” so much. Sick sea turtles came in, healthy turtles were released. I read what I could about them and asked endless questions of the staff and volunteers. Everyone always takes the time to talk about the turtles and their treatments. If it were not for "Swimming Lessons", I may have never fallen in love with these beautiful animals.

Visitors coming on the tours all love the turtle hospital and the turtles. One young lady from Pennsylvania came on a tour last fall and told me she was in the middle of reading "Swimming Lessons" and had to come. A person from Ohio had a copy of the book with her that she had just read and had to come see what the character Toy loved so. I’m asked all the time what got me to the sea turtle hospital after being a Special Educator for decades. "Swimming Lessons", I tell them.

On May 1st of this year, we released 7 turtles. I had the privilege of releasing a baby green sea turtle back into the ocean. The sea turtle hospital has released 51 turtles! I will always be indebted to Kelly Thorvalson for giving me this remarkable opportunity and Mary Alice Monroe for showing me the path to the sea turtle hospital. Lastly, a special shout out for Dr. Shane Boyland (vet), Christi Hughes (biologist), and all of the dedicated volunteer staff.


  1. as a "displaced" South Carolina girl, currently living in Texas, I too, hope to be a member of the much beloved Turtle Ladies at the SC Aquarium! you gals do wonderful work. blessings,
    Heidi Heard Davis
    Austin, Texas

  2. The Beach House, Swimming Lessons and Skyward all gave me completely new reasons for falling in love with the low country. I have been visiting for many years now from Michigan which is my home. Two years ago, I made a decision that from now on I am going to jump at any and every opportunity to visit the low country. Now my eyes are going to be scouring the beach for turtle "tracks" and yellow tape and the skies for signs of those marvelous raptors. Thank you, Mary Alice for passing on your love affairs to us We are indebted.


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All the best,
Mary Alice