The YMCA’s summer swim lessons sucked. They’d never compare to lighting firecrackers or jumping off the roof of our back porch for fun. I hated the long, sweaty bike ride to the Y, then quickly getting into my bathing suit, taking a shower, and waiting in the claustrophobic, damp, echo-filled indoor pool for our mean instructor to yell at us.
“In my Tadpoles course, you will learn the crawl stroke. It’s that simple. Anyone who cannot demonstrate strong crawl stroke technique will not pass my class.”
Is he kidding? I’m still shivering from the shower, and I’ve had ten minutes to recover. All I want to do here is swallow as little water as possible and never have to throw up.
For most of our first lesson, the instructor lined us up in the water to learn the leg kick. The following week, he drilled us on the crawl stroke, repeating several times how the arm motion had to work in precise tandem with our breathing.
After obeying his strict guidelines, my attitude changed. Maybe I was ready to put all the components together into one stroke and swim like other kids.
On the third week, I watched four other classmates swim to the other side and back, performing the crawl stroke adequately. It was my turn now. Standing in the water along the wall, I took one last breath and thrust my body forward into the chlorine sea of opportunity.
The first three strokes went very well. Wow. If I’d already gone halfway across the pool on just three strokes, I’d get to the other side and back with strength to spare.
The fourth and fifth strokes weren’t as spectacular. By the sixth stroke, my head surfaced for air whenever it wanted. My leg strokes took vacations. My arms worked anything but in tandem with my feet or my breaths. Remembering how and when to do all these motions together seemed too hard. My mind had turned to mush. Fortunately, however, I did not throw up.
I hated rules. I hated lessons. They were always complicated. I craved freedom and wanted to have fun like I did on Saturday afternoon family outings at the pool. Don, Doug, Cathy, and Mom would scatter to different areas of the pool to swim, but I’d sink straight to the water’s bottom and sit. Holding my breath for half-minute periods at a time, I’d linger in the clean, sun-warmed water to play with the little rocks on the pool’s bottom that weren’t supposed to be there. I enjoyed life away from lifeguards, swim instructors, and spazzy kids who hovered just above me, not to mention Don, Doug and Cathy who – having made it all the way to the Minnows class echelon – annoyed me with their swimming and diving prowess. They weren’t the type to appreciate things like dangerous tobogganing and jumping off bikes, so we never talked much about sports. In fact, whenever whistled out of the pool for Adult Swim sessions, I sat by the pool’s edge with my siblings in silence, sucking SweetTarts, wondering why adults chose to do grueling laps when instead they could backflip off the high dive and crash in the water back first.
I guess we all know now why adults don’t backflip off the high dive and crash in the water back first. That would hurt.
But nothing like the pain of swim lessons.
The excerpt above is taken from the chapter, “Competition,” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.” Check out the “Stories From Maybe Boomer” archives tab for more posts including memoir excerpts.