A lot of people are surprised to hear that a 22-year old man can’t swim.
I’ve found it’s a good way to get people’s attention.
When I was a child I took swimming lessons like a lot of other kids do. I think I enjoyed them. I don’t really remember; it was a long time ago.
One thing I do remember was the last swimming lesson I ever attended.
I was about 7 years old and we were doing “bobs,” where you hang on to the wall, pull yourself out of the water to catch your breath, and dip back under. After your feet hit the bottom of the pool, you shoot up and do it all over again.
Bobs were one of my favorite activities in the pool because they were easy and didn’t involve any kicking.
However, that soon changed as my head came down and, rather than hit the water, nailed the side of the pool.
Blood immediately went everywhere. It looked like a shark had just attacked.
Understandably, it was a scarring life event for 7-year-old David.
Six stitches later I developed the goal to never go in a pool again. I had learned my lesson. I was content with my only swimming being done in a bath tub.
As my friends continued to go to swimming lessons to perfect the skill, I found other activities on dry land, such as watching television.
Almost 16 years later it seemed to come up quite often that I never learned how to swim.
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked “How is that possible?” when I told them about my lack of aquatic abilities I could retire from The Herald and live quite comfortably.
I’m not afraid of water (that much). I just didn’t know what to do once I was in it. So as a kid I would go to pool parties with my friends and just hang out on the side of the pool, where nothing bad could happen — as long as I didn’t try any more bobs. I just sort of chilled there and hoped girls liked guys with floaties on their arms.
As I got older I found my calling. I became the guy posted up in the hot tub. And I’ll tell you, sooner or later, everyone else came to hang out with me.
I’ve gone to the beach. I’ve even “swam” in two oceans. By “swam” I mean I waddled to my knees, sat down and splashed around a little bit. It’s not that I didn’t want to learn how to swim.
I just felt the same way a lot of people did after seeing “Jaws”: afraid to get back in the water.
That all changed last week.I was invited to participate in a swimming practice with the Cascade boys swimming team. I decided it was time to deflate and hang up my floaties forever.
On the last day of January I arrived at Forest Park Pool to learn how to swim. I was terrified and sleepy.
I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so terrified. Talk about a vicious circle. I got to the pool incredibly early, and just sat there looking at the water.
I’ll be honest, I was intimidated. There was a lot more of it than there was of me. It was stronger, faster and even prettier than I was. I was absolutely intimidated. Then I got in.
Cascade head coach Eric Smith basically held my hand — and flipper — as he walked me through a crawlstroke.
A crawlstroke is the basic swim move, with your arms coming over your head while your feet kick to all hell behind you.
I wasn’t a natural. I’m not the most athletic person in the world — my main exercise routine consists of an eight-minute Shake Weight workout with maybe 50 sit-ups afterwards if I really feel like taking it to the next level.
It took a few times down the pool and back to even get some semblance of what I was doing.
There’s a lot to remember while swimming and I forgot what I’m guessing is the most important part of the whole thing: to breathe.
I was so busy making sure my hands met out in front of me, kicking from my hip and not my knee and squinting because water got in my goggles because — surprise — I didn’t put them on right, that I forgot to actually take a breath.
Fortunately, I realized my mistake. Unfortunately, I began flailing for air and my crawlstroke basically slowed down to a crawl.
My saving grace was that I wasn’t alone in the experience. I had the whole Cascade swimming team there to cheer me on — and occasionally laugh at me.
Arthur Lebarbenchon, one of the three foreign exchange students on the team that I wrote about earlier in the season, shared a lane with me for a little bit.
He constantly reassured me that he, and many others on the team, where in the same boat when the season began in November. The only difference is they jumped off that boat and learned how to swim.
It’s hard to label my first swimming experience a “success,” because I feel like I failed miserably at most things I attempted to do.
The biggest failure came while attempting the butterfly stroke. With your legs together (in the aptly named “dolphin kick”) and both your arms coming over you at the same time (like a butterfly) you’re supposed to be able to swim.
That particular stroke is much, much easier said than done.
I think Smith saw I was going to cry soon if forced to continue to fail at the butterfly stroke, and took me over to meet Jolynne Abbe, the diving coach for Cascade, Archbishop Murphy, Everett and Jackson.
Abbe, who has a Barbie doll at practice to show divers where to put every single body part, didn’t waste any time sending me to the boards. She would later go on to say that she probably should have asked if I could swim before I began diving.
On my first dive I immediately panicked as soon as I hit the water. My ears really hurt because of the sudden pressure change, and, since I wasn’t perfectly vertical, a certain, fragile part of my anatomy hit the water a lot harder than I (or it) anticipated we were going to.
I kept going down, figuring “I’ll hit the bottom of the pool eventually and push myself back up.”
That never happened.
I flailed and freaked out and flailed some more. With my eyes closed tighter than they’ve ever been before, I slowly worked my way back to the top, managed to grab a huge gasp of air, and subsequently, and involuntarily, went underwater again.
Eventually, I was somehow able to make it back to the wall — using a modified crawlstroke — and pull myself out of the pool.
My ears hurt. My, um, goggles hurt. But, with a huge smile on my face, I quickly walked back to the diving board and prepared to go again.
After practice I had a little debrief session with the coaches, and talked to a few of the players.
Smith said that while watching me, many of the kids said, “I remember when I looked like him.”
“It’s hardcore. Literally, I didn’t know how to swim on my first day,” said third-year swimmer Austin Fisher, who the team appropriately calls “Fish.”
“I said, ‘I think I’m gonna try swimming,’” said Trevor Kay, who’s been on the team for two years. “I thought I was gonna die. Now I’m going to districts.”
Almost all of the guys said they hope to continue swimming after high school, at least recreationally.
Abbe calls it a “lifetime sport,” something you can do your entire life to stay in shape. I’m not going to districts anytime soon, but I did get a surprising endorsement from Smith after I was all dried off.
“I’d put you in a race today,” Smith said.
Admittedly, there may have been more after that quote, like, “in a race against a middle school team.”
But I was so excited I frantically wrote that down because it was one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.
The Cascade coach went on to say that my “crawlstroke was actually pretty good at the end.”
I was not surprised when he told me the area I most need to work on.
“His dolphin kick was not a thing of beauty,” Smith said.
I didn’t argue with him. Still, I left the pool pretty excited.
Now I know that if I jump of a boat in the middle of the ocean, I can crawlstroke about 50 yards before I drown.
That’s a huge improvement from where I was at the start of the day.
“For someone who doesn’t know how to swim, you did great,” said Bruins’ swimmer, and my new favorite person in the world, Reece Lawson.
“When you learn to swim David you’re going to want to swim a lot,” Abbe said.
She’s absolutely right. I can’t wait to get back in the pool. And the floaties are staying at home.