Never Give Up . . . .Serious story. Years ago, early September on Lake Texoma. I was a Scoutmaster leading an end-of-summer camping trip. Story is not about me, but how I got there has some relevance. Simply, I volunteered to do some work for the Boy Scouts and they decided to make me the scoutmaster for a group of boys, who through no fault of theirs, didn’t have fathers and older brothers to do the camping thing.
At the time of the story, I had been the boy’s scoutmaster for about three years. They had been climbing in the ranks and now needed to accomplish some of the more challenging merit badges.
Morning broke early with a bit of a cold wind off the lake. The fellows had gotten better over the years, rarely complained and went about a relatively orderly breakfast and clean-up. A paramedic, at the neighboring fire station made an excellent assistant scoutmaster. Decided the day favored a hike and off we went.
Of interest, the Senior Patrol leader was a good-looking husky young man who had been in a severe auto accident at the age of 6, costing him one eye, one lung and lots of broken bones. His mom was going through a divorce at the time and he had not spoken a word since the age of six. He grunted a little, seemed to whisper under his breathe but no friend, teacher or his mom had heard him speak.
He was rather frightening to the other boys . . . being a bit larger and grunting, but we had bonded in some strange sort of way. Of all the boys, he never missed a meeting. One day I got the wild idea of making him the senior patrol leader . . .and the boys liked it. Was turning out to be the best Senior Leader I ever had.
The Texas sun turned the cool morning into a warm afternoon . . .so we supervised the boys with swimming off the end of the dock. The two twins (15?) asked if they could earn their swimming merit badge with an open water swim. Seemed like a good afternoon for it. There was a large flat rock about ½ mile away so I told them we would swim over to the rock, rest there and then return. Definitely a good swim for any swimmer.
The twins younger brother . . . a much smaller 90 lb boy also wanted to do the swim . . . Brett (assistant scoutmaster) said he would look after the boys on the dock. So we did a pre-swim plan, that all the boys listened to. The twins were to start first and swim together. Myself and the younger brother were to give them about 15 yards and then follow. I was going to swim next to the younger boy.
Water was rougher than they anticipated. The young boy was restricted to side-stroke and the twins started to expand the gap . . . which was good . . .I wanted them on the rock and out of the water when the younger boy started the last 100 yards.
Well, we weren’t more than 1/3rd the way when we heard a huge splash and cheering like we were at a basketball game. It was difficult to see back that far, being so low in the water . . . but I could tell there was a lot of splashing going on. From the dock, came a chant, yelling the senior patrol leader’s name over and over. It was an “oh no” moment . . . when I realized the SPL had dove in and was trying to swim.
And he didn’t know how to swim.
It was a quick choice . . . . I had the twins slow up and then escort their brother the rest of the way . . . at this point the young fellow was already exhausted . . . but hearing that Victor had just dove in seemed to give him a second wind.
With that I started a strong stroke back to Victor. He was easy to spot, with all that splashing. He hadn’t gone far, he realized he was in real trouble and was getting frantic. I approached him and was afraid he would just jump me and take us both down. Somehow I caught his attention as I approached . . . it did surprise him. I urged him to doggy paddle and float a little . . . which he did. Then with a calm voice I didn’t know I had . . . asked if he wanted to return to the dock or go on. Have to give him credit . . . he really thought about it . . . and indicated with his head he wanted to follow the twins. More with divine guidance, than any smarts I agreed . . . and then instructed him in the side stroke . . . the only way I figured a one lunged, one eyed boy, with a bad arm would ever make it.
Slowly, very slowly we headed away from the safety of returning to the dock . . . at this point the boys started chanting his name again and Victor redoubled his effort. I can’t imagine how one could swim with one lung . . . but this guy was tough. A little past the halfway point we heard a loud cheer go up and echo across the canyon . . . the twins and the little brother had safely reached the rock.
Now, all eyes were on Victor . . . and even I was starting to tire. We floated a few times, just so I could give him a chance to get some air . . . as we closed to the rock . . .between the twins urging him on and ones on shore the canyon sounded like a pep rally . . . and then we arrived.
Victor was exhausted and had nothing left to crawl onto the rock . . . and I didn’t have enough to push him . . . he just kept slipping back into the water. So the three boys on the rock created a chain, where they held on to each other and the last boy grabbed Victor. . . . and with that he was pulled up and laid on the rock.
I have never heard or seen anything like it. With Victor’s arrival the boys remaining on the dock celebrated . . . you would have thought the Cowboys just won the super bowl.
We all just laid on the rock for a while resting. I told Victor he had “done good” . . . and he smiled a smile I will never forget.
Once we got our second wind . . . we made another plan. The young brother would start back first, followed by the twins, who would quickly catch him . . . and they were to return together. Once they were more than halfway, I would start with Victor.
The twins covered the return distance faster than the outbound trip. Victor slipped into the water . . . struggled a bit and then smoothed down for a very long side-stroke swim back to the dock.
When we arrived, all the boys tried to help Victor out of the water . . . it was over-whelming . . . they clapped him on the back, high fived, shook hands, shoved him, jumped on him . . . . and Victor just smiled.
I was exhausted . . . . and it was time to head up for dinner . . . camp was different that night. Victor helped the boys cook, showed them what to do and actually did a nice job putting together an extraordinary meal (with chocolate mousse).
Round the campfire, the boys had a good time . . . chips, soda, cobbler, laughter and no pranks . . . .the whole bunch had grown up a bit that afternoon.
Moving ahead 48 hours to Monday evening . . . .
I get a phone call . . . it is Victor’s mom. She is absolutely hysterical. I immediately figured she found out that I had let Victor swim almost one mile across open water. For about five minutes I could not understand a word she was saying. She was crying and trying to talk.
Then she calmed and said “Victor talked!” . . . apparently, once Victor arrived home, he so wanted to tell his mom about the swim that he actually started to talk and tell her about it . . . normal for you and me . . . but he hadn’t done more than grunt in almost 10 years? She said he struggled with words at first, but within a few hours he was making sentences and even more happy that he could talk.
Wish I knew what it was that did it . . . the swim? The accomplishment? The acceptance of the other boys? The teamwork? . . . I have often rethought this . . .and wondered.
But I know one thing . . . NEVER GIVE UP!