I was only 2 months old when I saw the ocean for the first time. 4 years the second time. It was the late 90s, my neighbors had a pool, and I loved visiting the community watering hole with the frog slide and the tall diving platform. At age 5 I decided that I didn’t need floaties. So, I began taking lessons. The coach taught us in the kiddie pool and we slowly graduated to the one with a deep end. Weeks passed and we learned how to float, how to jump straight into a freezing pool, and the monster stroke (freestyle). On the last day of our swimming camp, there was a competition. We all lined up, the coach blew the whistle, and we were off. I pushed off the wall and thrashed as quickly as I could. Halfway through I came up for real air, checked behind me, and noticed that I was tied with some kid for first. I put my head down and went back to work, arms pumping in all directions and finally crashing into the wall. I don’t remember who won.
That was my first and last swimming race. I had made it. I could swim now and forevermore with no floaties. The girls would all have crushes on me. Maybe I’ll even get the lifeguard’s attention. The years went on, and the water became less involved in my summers. One day, while getting ready to go to the pool for the first time in over a year, I realized that the water was less enjoyable than it used to be. I would get on the slides and play water basketball with my friends, but never the deep end. I could fake a freestyle, but I couldn’t breathe. Pretty soon, the pool became a place that I didn’t travel to. I declined invitations.When I went to a lake party, I would stay on the beach. The water became a place of intense self-consciousness.
After successfully avoiding deeper water for years, I found myself surrounded by friends on South Padre Island. We played with the small waves, found a less crowded slice of beach, and had just begun working on our sunburns when my friend spotted a sandbar in the distance. He asked if we wanted to swim out there with him.
No one said no. I was 16, there were girls on the trip, and I didn’t want to be left alone. I casually swam out to the edge of the reef. I could still feel the bottom, and had hope that it wouldn’t get deeper. I took a deep breath, 4 or 5 strokes, and came up for air again. A slight wave came over me and I found water bursting into my lungs. I tried to touch the bottom and found myself going deeper and sucking in more water. I began to panic and flail when two arms grabbed me from behind and swam me back to shore. That was the last time I ever enjoyed being in the water. I haven’t been in water past my head without a life-jacket since.
Since that day, learning to swim hasn’t been on my list of priorities. I live in Kansas. I’ve had school and work. I learned how to cycle, how to run, and how to avoid water. In the meantime, a small stress fracture has left giant gap where my training used to be, and my bike has disappeared. I have decided to finally put proper effort into learning how to swim. Today was day 1. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.