I learned how to swim fairly early in life. This is because I attended a primary school where it was mandatory to have swimming lessons once a week. Unless you had a note from your parents giving a good reason why not, the whole class was expected to be poolside rain or shine, once a week, to practice swimming. Our teacher was rather stern, and I remember that I was a little afraid of her. During our first lesson, she asked everyone to enter the pool and swim to the other side, without any instructions on how this was to be done. Many people just held on to the side rails from one side to the other, and that is how they got across. I took my courage in both hands, took a deep breath and jumped in. With a lot of unnecessary kicking, splashing and gasping, I managed to make it from one end of the pool to the other. I was so proud of myself and beamed at the swimming teacher, expecting praise for accomplishing this feat. All she said though was ‘Next!’ It was a bit of a letdown for me. I went to join the other students to watch the next person in line attempt to make their way to the other side.
Our swimming teacher was a bit of a swimming elitist, and seemed to pay more attention to those who could swim better, and she sort of let the rest practice alone. After we had mastered the basics of swimming, some of the brave souls among us began to learn how to dive. This was not mandatory. Those who were willing to learn were encouraged to do so, and the rest were allowed to swim. Those who were willing to go the extra mile got to swim not only during the lesson, but also after the bell rang at four o’clock for the end of the school day. There was extra training for the good swimmers then. The people who got invited to participate in this group were the elite of the school, and I wanted to be one of them, but I was terrified of diving.
Every swimming lesson, I would head to the edge of the pool and stretch my hand out in the standard diving pose. I would bend my legs slightly and put my head between in my hands. Then I would try to make myself fall forward into the water, but I was too scared. The swimming teacher would get tired of waiting for me to dive in and go on to help someone else. I really wanted to do it, but my body seemed to freeze every time I tried.
One swimming lesson, I was standing at the edge of the pool staring at the blue chlorinated water. It was the shallow end of the pool, and my classmates were let free to swim there. The swimming teacher was off to the side, talking to a student who was unable to swim because of a medical condition. Nobody was near me, or paying any attention to me. I took a deep breath and said to myself that this time, I would not back down. I was going to do it. So I breathed in deeply, got in position and dived in before I could think about it.
I do not know what happened next. I felt like my head, had gone into my neck, I could not tell where I was and whether I was facing up or down. I could see some shapes moving in the water, but they were not near me. I had no command of my limbs. Somehow I realized I was going to die in a foot of water, not ten feet away from my classmates. When this realization came to me, something in me shouted a denial, and I began to kick my arms and legs. I knew that the surface was close, and I was taller than the water. Even though, I did not know which way was up, I conjectured that sooner or later one of my limbs would surface and then I would know which way was up. Sure enough, I kicked one leg, and it hit the air. Slowly, I turned my body and headed in that direction. I was able to stand up and laboriously pull myself out of the water, collapsing in shock on the side of the pool. No-one had noticed my near drowning, it was surreal to see them all cavorting merrily in the water barely a few feet from me.
This incident bred in me a fear of diving that I have never quite been able to eliminate. Every time I do it, I cringe just a bit. Happily though, I did manage to learn how to do it properly, eventually.
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