My love of the public pool began one summer with Red Cross swimming lessons in the early morning hours when the water was so cold I learned to dog paddle with blue lips and fingertips. Those lessons were followed by public swim time, which meant a day full of hot dogs, strawberry soda, taffy and laughter along with the splashes.
My goal was not to just learn to swim, but to do what all the cool kids were doing, and that was to jump off the diving board. That rite of passage felt so grown up, so brave, as if accomplishing this meant I could conquer anything.
Before my first jump was allowed, the lifeguard informed me I was required to swim the length of the pool without stopping. I practiced for weeks, until one day I was ready. I still remember the thrill as I climbed the ladder, feeling like a superhero as I flew through the air before landing in the clear pool waters. I had gained a new life skill, one that would stay with me forever. Or so I thought. Flash forward about 40 years.
Last summer my whole family went to the public pool. Watching others taking the plunge off the diving board reminded me that I was an accomplished jumper, and I longed to show my skills to others. I hesitated for a moment then realized jumping off the diving board was like riding a bike. All of your training comes rushing back the second you put your foot on that bouncy plank.
I announced my intentions to my family, as if I was an Olympic announcer presenting a gold medal hopeful. I walked confidently to the board, took a step onto it and then froze. I could not go forwards or backwards. I was suddenly aware that I could die in a watery abyss. Time stood still.
A hush fell over the pool, and all I could hear was the sound of the fountains stirring the waters. Everyone stopped what they were doing to see why there was a plus-sized, middle-aged woman quivering two feet above the water. I walked slowly to the edge, being encouraged by my supportive family.
The board was bouncing, not because I was jumping but because I was shaking so hard. I got about halfway to the end when the board began to bow, as if it was so tired of me standing there it was trying to forcibly dump me into the water. As the arc became steeper, my choices were to wrap my arms and legs around the handles and have the fire department come rescue me or jump. I had no choice. I had to go.
I took in a large gasp of air but stupidly used most of it to scream as I dropped into the oxygen-lacking waters. That is when the fear really set in.
Under water, with no air in my lungs, I realized my chubby adult body sank a lot deeper than my lean childhood one, a realization that only added to my panic.
Time was moving in slow motion, and so was my rise to the top. As I was thinking, “Yep, this is when I die. I am going to sink to the bottom and it’s going to take them hours to exhume my body,” my lungs began fighting to perform their natural survival process of inhaling. I resisted with all I had, and just when I couldn’t last another second, I reached the surface.
Like a fishing bobber, I was up then I was down. Not wanting to cause a panic, I made sure to keep smiling so no one noticed I was fighting with all I had to stay above water and take in enough air to keep from going to heaven. It was at that moment I was beyond thrilled I had birthed a son many years before.
Seeing my struggles, he tossed me a floaty. I have never been prouder of him in my life! I grabbed hold of it with all I had, informing everyone, “I don’t need this! Why did you throw me this? I know how to swim,” but inside, I was so grateful he recognized his mother’s lack of buoyancy and saved me from being rescued by a teenage lifeguard.
I got out of the pool and heard applause from everyone who was celebrating the fact that I had faced my fear. They had no clue they almost witnessed an actual case of CPR.
As I humbly walked back to my beach towel, I realized some things are better left as a memory. Splashing around as a youth is exhilarating and carefree. But as a fluffy, inexperienced, out-of-shape adult, the odds of death seem so much greater and need to be greatly considered before attempting anything like this again.