When I was a kid, it took me several attempts to graduate out of the beginner’s swimming class. I remember my classmates moving on—continuing their lessons in a deeper part of the pool—while I was still in the shallow end, staring at the “3 FT” sign, wondering why I didn’t go on with them.
“You’re staying with me because I want you to be perfect at blowing bubbles and kicking,” the young teacher told me.
This seemed reasonable to me. My teacher cared about me so much that she wanted me to be the best I could be. I knew that when I moved up to the next level, my bubble-blowing skills (unlike my former classmates’) would be perfect, not just “passable.”
The following week, I was still in the beginner’s class but it was okay because I was there to perfect my kicking. And my teacher was clearly thrilled to have me stay her class—she kept giving me hugs and saying things like, ‘I’m so proud of you! You’re doing GREAT!” I had no problem repeating the class again. And when I had to repeat it another time, it was fine with me—I knew I was developing into an Olympic-caliber kicker and bubble-blower.
Eventually I graduated to the next level but my memories of the rest of my swimming lessons are hazy. I only clearly remember two things: 1. Nobody seemed to be particularly impressed with my bubble blowing or kicking and 2. I swallowed a lot of water. Okay, there was a third thing: Despite the perfect skills I had developed in the first level, everyone else was better than I was. It was baffling!
Years later, sometime in high school, my mom told me the bitter truth about my swimming lessons.
“You were an awful swimmer,” she said. “You were so afraid of the water – it took the entire summer to get you to put your head underwater.” Over the years, my mom would gleefully tell anyone who would listen about how bad I was in my swimming lessons. “An entire summer,” she’d say, “just to dunk his head underwater! Can you believe it?”
To this day, my mom will use any excuse to bring up this embarrassing part of my childhood. There’s about a 97% chance that she’ll mention it if any of the following subjects are discussed in a conversation:
Kids who suck at things
I have a feeling that if someone were to mention “Dunkin’ Donuts,” my mom would follow it by saying, “Speaking of dunkin’… you know who took an entire summer to dunk his head underwater for the first time?”
As I got older, my fear of the water subsided but my swimming skills didn’t improve all that much. How bad of a swimmer am I? To give you an idea, I’ll end with this story:
Ten years ago, I went to a friend’s bachelor party weekend. At the time, he was into triathlons and as part of the weekend’s festivities he wanted everyone do a mini-triathlon with him. The race was a 300-meter swim, 11-mile bike, and 5K run.
A few minutes before the start of the triathlon, hundreds of people waded into the small manmade lake, getting psyched to race. I was a little nervous about the swim but I kept telling myself, “It’s only 300 meters. Less than one lap around a track. You’re not that bad of a swimmer. You can hold your own for 300 meters.”
At the sound of the starting gun, we all took off and I swam as fast as I could. I saw everyone around me and worked hard to keep up with them. I was in the zone—arms churning and legs kicking like a machine.
Around the halfway mark, I started to feel a little tired but I knew it was almost over. I was holding my own! Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a race official in a canoe rowing over towards me. I had heard him yelling “Turn left!” to the others ahead of me, so I knew that’s why he was coming my way. He rowed within a few feet of me, leaned out of his canoe, and said:
“Are you okay?”
It was not a proud moment. After I replied, “Yeah,” I looked around, which was when the real humiliation set in.
I wasn’t dead last—I think there were one or two fat guys behind me—but I was definitely bringing up the rear and apparently wasn’t looking very good while doing it. Who am I kidding. I looked horrendous. My swimming was so awful that it prompted a race official to confirm that I wasn’t drowning.
My daughter begins her next set of swimming lessons today and, from what I’ve seen so far, she should grow into a much better swimmer than her dad. At least that’s my hope. I don’t ever want her to have to hear, “Are you okay?” in the middle of a swimming race.