Monday, May 16, 2011


I do not like to go swimming.  It is one of the sports that I feel is a complete waste of time.  I will admit that it is good excersize but that doesn't make it fun.  Personally I find almost any sport that takes you close to or in a body of water is wasting time.  Swimming in a pool or lake, fishing, ice skating or skiing seems like it would not be much fun to me. I have to confess I have never been water or snow skiing but just watching it doesn't seem to have much of a thrill to me.

I do however feel that as a survival skill it is important to know how to swim.  There are so many situations that you can find yourself caught in that swimming could save your life.  Being caught in a flood is one example.  A flash flood hits where you happen to be and the only way to save yourself is to be able to swim  to solid ground.  If you happen to be taking a walk around a lake and should happen to slip and find yourself in the lake, it would be nice to know that you can make it back to shore.

My uncle Buster did not know how to swim and not knowing how to swim actually came in handy for a good practical joke one time.  We were out on the Lake of the Ozarks in a boat when the boat became lodged upon a sand bar approximately thirty feet from shore.  My grandmother Hill was sitting in a chair on the shore watching us boat around when we hit the sand bar.  Grandma sat there watching and suddenly Buster, realizing that we were on a sandbar, began to step out of the boat in the middle of the lake.  I am told that Grandma was shocked to see Buster step out of the boat when he didn't know how to swim.  She may have even come close to fainting at that one.

My grandmother and mother thought it would be a good thing for my Aunt Sue and myself to learn to how to swim.  They gave cheap lessons at the public pool in Swope Park in Kansas City and so we were signed take swimming lesson one summer when we were old enough to be tall enough to stand in the water without our heads going under.

The swimming instructors were volunteer high school kids and the beginner swim lessons were fairly simple.  We had to learn how to hold our breath.  Immediately this sounded like a thing that would add to my thinking that swimming was not so much fun.  We held onto the side of the pool and put our faces in the water to see who could stay the longest with their face int he water.  The second step was to learn how to float in the water.  Floating on your stomach is a piece of cake bu floating on your back is terrifying.  You have to keep your back arched and your head held back in the water.  I could see no reason at all for putting me through all of this.

Next we learned how to use our arms to swim with.  We stood with our feet on the bottom of the pool and just pretended to swim with our arms.  By the end of the two weeks we had to swim about ten feet from the middle of the pool to the side.  As a result of this whole weeks work we were given a read pin to where on our swim suits that said BEGINNER on it.  I was officially a swimmer as long as I didn't have to swim more than ten feet or so.

The next year I was taken to advance my swimming skills by signing up for the intermediate classes.  These classes were held in deeper water and taught us the proper way to breather while swimming, how to use the floating skills as a tool to rest with during a long swim and then finally how to tread water,  which means you swim with out moving as far as I can tell.  I learned fairly quickly in this class and began to think that although I did not like to swim, I could see where it could come in handy once in a while in an emergency situation.

After a week of intermediate classes it was test time.  The test for the intermediate class was to swim across the twelve foot deep pool back and forth and to tread water for five minutes.  We did the tread test first with everyone in the class jumping into the twelve foot pool and starting to tread water for five minutes.  After five minutes of treading water my arms were tired and felt weak.  I did it though and so now there was just one more step to take.  Swim across the pool and back.  It would be a total of approximately fifty feet.  Shouldn't have been a problem.  It turned out to be a problem.

The only thing I can figure out is that my arms were too tired from treading water to swim across the pool and back.  I found myself halfway across the pool when suddenly I seem to forget how to swim.  My feet sank down and I started flailing my hands and splashing about.  I remember yelling help but the only response I got from my instructor was telling me to swim.  He yelled this several times as I went under the water mutiple times.  Finally I must have convinced him that I was not going to start swimming and so he dived into the pool and dragged me out. 

As I sat on the concrete and watched my fellow classmates pass the test I felt ashamed of myself.  There is no reason why I shouldn't have been able to do that.  I was good at almost everything I tried so why had I failed at this one thing?  After the whole class had passed the test the instructor came over to where I was sitting by myself with my towel around my shoulders.  He told me that he knew I could do it.  He had been watching me swim for a week and he didn't understand what happened.  Well, neither did I so at least we were on the same page.  He then gave me a second chance.  I could try the test again if I wanted to and he would forget about the first attempt which had turned into an embarrassing debacle.  I decided to take him up on it and went over to the side of the pool.  I jumped in and began swimming.  I swam with all my heart and with everything I could give it.  Before I knew it I was at the other side of the pool being told to turn around and swim back.  I did exactly that and somehow I had over come the fear of twelve foot deep water and passed my intermediate test.  For this I was given a green pin that said "INTERMEDIATE" on it to be placed on my trunks next to my red pin.  It was more of a victory for me than anyone would realize.

The next year I had a choice.  I could take advanced swimming or take diving lessons.  I chose the diving lessons because it seemed more fun that just learning how to swim better.  I ended up being correct.  Diving lessons were fun.  All the lessons were taught on the low diving board.  We learned front flips and back flips as well as a sort of swan dive and jack knife dives.  Everyday was something new in diving class.  I had the confidence in my swimming now that I could dive and swim to the edge of the pool with no problem.  We learned a new dive each day and spent the whole class time working on that one dive with the instructor giving us criticisms with each dive.  The week went by much too fast.  For the first time I was enjoying swimming in a way although it wasn't really swimming.  It was diving.

When the week ended it was time to take the diving test.  We had to choose two of the four dives we had learned and perform them to the satisfaction of our instructor.  One of the dives had to be a flip and the other a straight dive.  I chose the front flip and the jack knife dives and performed them flawlessly.  I was pretty proud of myself until I found out what the conclusion of the test was.  To complete the diving test we had to climb up on the high dive and jump into the pool.  Suddenly I was terrified.

I have a fear of heights that is pretty serious.  I was debating with myself on whether to just walk away without my blue diving pin or to try to face it and somehow survive the fall.  I stood at the back of the line as everyone else in my class walked those concrete steps up to the gallows and fling themselves off into the great blue void of the sky and splash hard into the water. My turn came too soon.  I was the last one and class time was almost over.  It was now or never.  I remembered the embarrassment of the previous year during the intermediate test and decided not to have a repeat of that again.  As my knees shook and my hands held a death grip on the handles I began climbing those stairs.  I tried not looking down but I did.  I froze for a second or two and debated on climbing back down and walking away, but I got my strength back up and took a few more steps.  All too soon was I at the top of the ladder and standing on the diving board.

I looked around.  It seemed so high.  I could see the parking lot on the far end of the pool from up here.  I am not sure how long I stood there gazing around not wanting to move out away from the ladder but it must have been for some time because the instructor began to yell at me to walk to the end of the board.

I imagined a blindfold around my eyes and a knife in my back as I shuffled my feet slowly out towards the end of the board.  Suddenly I was there.  One more step would send me falling helplessly until I hit the water.  I was getting all sorts of encouragement from my classmates and my instructor.  I finally took a deep breath and jumped out away from the board.  It seemed almost instantaneous that I hit the water.  I was ot flying in there air for very long at all.  I hit the water and went under then got my wits about me and swam to the edge of the pool.  I had passed and had received a Blue pin with DIVING printed on it.

It was the last pin I would receive from swimming lessons.  I declined my mothers offer for lessons the next year.  I knew how to swim well enough to keep me safe.  I never would really enjoy swimming although I would go swimming once in a while with cousins or my aunt.  For the most part though, jumping off that high dive had proven to me everything I needed to have proved.  I would and could survive in water.

1 comment:

  1. My son took a high dive, only I didnt know it until I seen the pictures. Not something he would have ever done. He didnt even like any of the rides at Amusement Parks. Am not so sure he wanted to survive that jump though. I will never know what prompted him to jump off that cliff into the water. He never shared it with me. Thank you for sharing your life stories.