LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Whether it’s the ocean or swimming pools, Southern Californians love to be in water.

But according to the Red Cross, more than half of adults in America can’t swim well, and many can’t swim at all.

Often, it can be traced to a traumatic experience that prevented them from learning, such as in the case of CBS2/KCAL9 anchor Leyna Nguyen.

And this summer, she finally faced her fears.

Nguyen says her fear of the water stems from one particular event from her childhood.

“When I was 5, I was in an apartment swimming pool, full of people, and I was on a raft,” recalled Nguyen. “Floated to the deep end, and then flipped over, went under, and no one saw me.”

To this day, Nguyen says, she can vividly recall what it looked like seeing all these legs moving underwater and how muffled the sound was.

“Someone finally grabbed me out, but I swallowed a lot of water, and it was a really scary experience,” she said. “Just talking about it now, I can still feel how helpless I felt.”

According to Nguyen, several people, including her father, friends and even a boyfriend in the Coast Guard, have tried to teach her to swim — and failed.

But with two kids who love to swim and a pool in her backyard, Nguyen says it was time to learn, for their sake. She sought the help of The Water Whisperer, Emily Cohen.

The first step seemed simple enough: pouring water over Nguyen’s head.

“I actually hated it and thought, ‘This is a mistake,’ ” she recalled.

Step two involved learning the ways to hold her breath and blow bubbles underwater, a process Nguyen says was so uncomfortable she had to do it several times.

From there, Nguyen learned to breathe out through her nose, through her mouth and then both.

Instinctively, she says, she started to kick, all while Cohen cheered her on.

“You looked perfect,” said Cohen. “Your head was almost completely down. The fact that you added kicking was great.”

For Nguyen, it seemed like a good start.

“At this point, I’m thinking, ‘OK, baby steps, maybe a week of this, and I might be able to swim,” she said.

The next lesson: learning how to paddle by making “spoons” with her hands.

She then used a pool noodle to help stay afloat, and after a second try, she was confident enough to go it alone.

In less than 20 minutes in the water, Nguyen was swimming, decades of embarrassment, she says, washed away with each stroke and kick.

“Like all good things learned later in life, I asked myself, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ ” Nguyen said,