Some days you need a reminder of challenges you’ve overcome.
Even if it was a minor struggle as a young child.
On my desk is a tiny badge with the word “Junior” on it; the “r” no longer visible. It’s a swimming badge earned long ago. It’s nothing big in the grand scheme of things. Yet, almost 50 years later, I still feel a glow of achievement. Goals not easily achieved can do that to a person.
Colwell Pool, an outdoor pool, was where swimming lessons were held each summer. No indoor pools back then. I probably was enrolled in 2 sessions of lessons each year. I’m not sure. I just remember the musty, dark change room with the cement floor and the wooden benches. And, my struggle to learn how to swim.
I just didn’t get it. The coordination of my arms and legs and then, oh my! The breathing, too! Learning the Front Crawl (now known as Freestyle) was the hardest thing for me to figure out. I failed the beginner level many times. Younger children seemed to catch on effortlessly.
I only had a two week window twice in the summer to learn. Until the next year, when I would attempt again.
Then, one day I passed! I was promoted to the Junior level. I earned the ability to swim “in the deep end”. On the other side of the rope with the buoys in it. The end of the pool that didn’t have the “little kids” in it.
I was excited. I was proud of myself. Suddenly, my pride was cut down by a lifeguard, my dentist’s teenage son. Singling me out in a pool full of children at a recreational swim, Steve told me I didn’t belong “in the deep end”. I didn’t have my beginner badge sewn onto my swimming suit like the other children. Steve yelled,” Prove you can swim across the pool!” If I couldn’t swim that far, I’d be forever banished to the shallow waters.
I started to question whether I possessed the skills or not. Maybe my former swimming instructor- my dentist’s sweet daughter, Carolyn- had merely taken pity on me and passed me. Could I do it? I had only swum in the shallow end where I could stop to touch bottom to catch my breath at any time. Would this lifeguard save me if I struggled?
I reluctantly released the safety of the pool’s edge. I began my long journey, swimming next to the rope, across the width of the pool. I held my breath each time I tucked my head into the water. I blew bubbles in the water and gasped for air when my head broke the surface. I flutter-kicked the best I could. Toes pointed. My tiny arms moved in circles like windmills.
I did it! I reached the other end of the pool where I clung to the wall, breathless. I looked up at the tall teenager, peering down at me. I don’t know which one of us was more shocked. I was granted permission to remain in the deep end from that day onwards.
I’d like to tell you the next levels came easily. Nope. I failed them all, at least one time each.
With hard work and perseverance, I did eventually become a lifeguard and a swimming instructor.
I lifeguarded and taught lessons at my high school pool while I attended WDSS (Wallaceburg District Secondary School). I did the same at the University of Windsor swimming pool while I attended school there.
In between those two pools, I lifeguarded at Camp Henry locally and taught swimming lessons in a glacier-fed lake in Northern British Columbia.
I have no idea how I look in the pool. I just know I love swimming. It’s effortless now. I solve many problems while I swim. My mind is still going but I’m free of any distractions like the phone or computer.
Recently, another swimmer, who studied ballet when younger, told me I swim so smoothly like I’m dancing in the water. I don’t know about that. I know I don’t dance well on land! But, I’ll take it as a compliment!
All I know is once I passed my Beginner level, I was in the Junior Level. In the deep end of the pool. And, there was no turning back for me. I don’t have my Beginner badge anymore. Maybe it was sewn on a bathing suit, after all. But, my Junior badge is displayed on my desk. A reminder that corners can be turned. I think I love swimming even more with the knowledge it didn’t come easy initially.
Just keep going, one stroke at a time, pulling the water behind you. Make a splash!