Thursday, September 17, 2009


I don't swim.

I wish I could come up with a short, easy explanation for this fact but, well there isn't one.

When I was a very young child, I remember the public pools were closed at least one summer due to the polio scare. After they re-opened, I was summarily enrolled in the requisite summer swimming classes. I know my mother had all the best intentions. I had all the best intentions. However, when it came time to show up for classes, well, it just seemed like I couldn't get there. Those younger might not appreciate that, in a small town in northeastern Colorado, it was just de rigueur for a mom to enroll their kid and expect them to show up in the pool (in my small defense, it was about 2 miles on my bike...) and learn something.

So, she'd enroll me, I'd show up for a few classes and would be completely unteachable and unable to grasp even the most basic instruction. I'd feel bad. Then I'd find it easy to get distracted on the way to the pool. Every day. Almost every class. The only thing worse than not showing up for class was showing up for class with everyone else able to do what I couldn't. For 4-5 sets of classes over 4-5 summers. It's embarrassing to write this even now.

Fast forward to high school. Several of us are out at a local private reservoir and there is a diving raft about 30-50 yards off the beach. Being who we were, they took the keg out there and the party pretty much moved from the beach out to the raft.

I'd had a few beers before the keg left shore and I watched as everyone swam out to the raft. I watched closely. It was easy. Besides, I'd had lessons. So, I jumped in the water and started swimming toward the raft. A little better than 1/2 way out, I was going down for the 3rd time when my best friend dove out from the raft and did a classic life saving maneuver.

As he and the other guys hauled me out onto the raft, I was a lovely picture puking beer and water and gasping and wheezing. After laying out for a while, I was able to resume drinking and we all had an adventure to laugh and talk about.

Came time to leave and I again watched and saw how easy it was to swim. I'd learned my lesson. I'd had several more beers. I dove in and after going down the 4th time the same friend again saved my life and drug me to shore.

So, for years, I've just known that I don't swim. When I get into water, I sink and drown.

With notable exceptions...

We own a swimming pool (a terrible idea in Colorado) and I had to be able to jump in the pool and get to the side without drowning or I would be afraid every time I cleaned it. I still only get in it about 2-3 times a summer but the grand kids have loved it and it gives me something to either focus my meditation around or hone my skills at focused resentments, depending on how well I am any given day.

On our honeymoon trip to Hawaii in 1989, my wife and I were turned on to snorkeling. I discovered that what I've never learned about swimming could be pretty well compensated for in salt water with mask, snorkel and fins. I loved it.

We caught the SCUBA bug and, one more time, I attempted to learn to swim to pass the open water certification. That adventure ("adult" swim lessons, getting certified) deserves its own article but, for now, suffice to say that I got through the swimming test by cheating. Up until 7 years ago when we ran out of money for that sort of endeavor, we'd logged a couple of hundred dives.

Which gets us to now.

I have a former sponsee/friend who's trying to help me do some exercise to help get me into some sort of shape (another article possibility...). We were at the gym the other day when, out of the blue, he said he'd like to teach me to swim. It's been anything but lovely but I'm once again seeing if I can now be humble enough to learn something about swimming that I could not grasp when I was 6.

The other day, he was trying to teach me the frog kick. I was once again feeling the frustration of a 6 year old kid as I watched my infinitesimal progress on the wall of the pool. I decided I really needed to focus so I bowed my head and very clearly followed the movements as I visualized my friends ample instruction in my mind. It was a victory! I was in fact willing and able to learn this!

As I looked to my left, I realized that my minute of highly focused frog kick netted me about -3 feet - I was going backwards...

So far, they've managed to replace the water in the pool that I've swallowed trying to get the breathing right and I've not given up after 4 lessons. But, it's not that I'm not looking for things to distract me and drop this one more time...

Ain't life exciting?


Mary LA said...

You know Ed, I grew up surrounded by great brown African river and was never allowed to swom because of the fear of bilharzia.

Then I managed to learn how to swim in a school pool with a styrofoam board. I do a splashy kind of breast stroke. It is such fun and I keep fit in summer that way.

Madison said...

Very funny, heartfelt post about humiliation and perseverance. I think swimmers can't write, so you've got them beat on that end.

Mary Christine said...

Life is, indeed, exciting. I hope that with your friend's help you will make progress swimming, it really is a wonderful thing. Nothing like what they tried to teach us when we were kids.

Syd said...

Swimming is a useful thing to know how to do for a marine scientist. So I learned at an early age--actually in the estuary, trying not to let my toes touch bottom or they would be nipped by crabs. I hope that your lessons pan out. Good for you to try again.