The chlorine stung my eyes. As soon as we walked into the indoor pool area, I was nervous. Mom lead me by the hand to the water’s edge where other children had already gathered and were easing their way into the water. The swimming instructor was tall, lean with dark hair. He couldn’t have ben more than 20 years old, but to me he seemed much older. He approached my mother and assured her I’d be fine. She went to the far end of the pool room and sat on a metal folding chair.
I remember his name, even after all this time. It was Mike. Mike, the swimming instructor. As we all waded in, I felt the shock and shiver of the water hitting my back. Although the pool was heated, it was still a surprise. He handed us floatation boards and got us to hold on and start kicking. By the time the exercise was finished, all 20 minutes of it, I was exhausted. I looked up and there was Mom, smiling at me. I had been distracted by my efforts, but it occurred to me that she had not taken her protective eyes off me for even a second.
Mike swam to me and taking hold of my waist, encouraged me to try to float. My arms flailed around and I kept sinking, but still he persevered, until I found floating on my back unaided comfortable.
When the lesson was over, my mother called out to me and shook her car keys at me. “Get my keys!” She shouted, then threw them into the middle of the pool. I wanted to find them for her, but I was afraid, never liking the feeling of water on my face. Even then, my eyesight wasn’t great, so to be blinded by chlorine was unappealing.
I slowly edged my way to where the keys had produced a splash, confident that I’d be able to feel around for them. From where she sat, my mother couldn’t see all of me, just my head, so I ducked closed to the surface of the water and with my toes, felt for the keys until the metal scraped the bottom of my foot. I lifted my head to be sure she couldn’t really see me, then with my toes, I gathered up the keys and passed them to my hand. Triumphant, I popped my head up and dangled the keys before her. “Well done!” She called out and came to me to fetch back her keys.
This went on for a while until something changed in her expression. At the precise moment, she had spotted me gathering up the keys with my toes and with a little laugh that was like a hiccup, she shook her head at me. “That’s cheating!”. I dropped my head liked the scolded child I was and promised to do it properly. It was horrid. The chlorine stung my eyes and although I managed to get the keys, I coughed and sputtered and tried to clear the water from my nose. This was before I learned how to blow out from my nose to keep it from going up.
Over the following weeks of lessons, with my mother at the side and Mike aiding my technique, I finally learned to swim. It’s funny, some people to learn to swim when their babies, others, much later in life, but for everyone, it’s such an important skill to have, something you can carry with you, dormant until you need it. It allows you to exercise, see another world in the water, or even save a life. Yet most of us take it for granted. Most of us never think about how we learned to swim, but it usually involves the help of others. In my case, it Mom and Mike, at the age of nine in the local YMCA pool.
Do you remember how you learned to swim? If you can’t what’s stopping you?