I Wish I Had Learned As A Child..

I grew up in Brooklyn NYC. My family moved to a new apartment not far from Coney Island when I was six years old. Though I had been at summer day camps that had above ground pools and we had a cabana at Brighton Beach one summer where they had a large salt water pool I never did learn how to swim. I was required to take swimming as part of my PE class in HS but I didn't really learn to swim there either. The PE teachers were more interested in weeding out possible candidates for the swim team then to pay much attention to non swimmers. I did however learn to float, or at least to know that I COULD float on my back (which turned out to be a life saver).

During my first summer after graduating from HS I was invited to spend the day with a radio club friend aboard his father's boat in Sheepshead bay. The boat was named "Comet" which was the biggest oxymoron I could think of as the boat was the slowest thing in the bay. Mitch was a barely adequate boatman, but he was able to pull away from the dock without crashing into anything. We were going to drop anchor off shore of an island off shore where there were picnic grounds. The boat had small enough draft that when anchored in shallow water you could wade to shore. (Of course the tide was slowly coming IN so there was no danger of the boat going aground). We had lunch and played Frisbee. The Frisbee game gradually ended up in the ocean and as the tide came in I found myself in deeper and deeper water and I finally stepped off an underwater ledge and fell in over my head. I panicked for a second and swallowed some sea water which only made things worse. But someone grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the shallows which flipped me onto my back and suddenly I was floating. The salt water made me more buoyant than I had been in the pool and I found I could float with my head higher out of the water. This eased my anxiety and I wasn't flaying about like someone drowning. Still, a life guard ended up towing me the ten additional feet toward shore where I could just walk out. I was a bit embarrassed over the incident being the only one of my friends not knowing how to swim. One of the members of the radio club suggested I ask another member to teach me, he was on his HS swim team.

Howie's parents were members at the JCC where they had an indoor pool. It was open to men two nights a week, for women two nights a week (closed Friday night for Shabot), and families on Sunday. Howie and his father used the pool two nights during the week (I think his old man just went to play cards,) Howie got in additional swim practice butĀ  he couldn't drive yet, since I had my driver's licenseĀ  I'd drive Howie over on nights his old man was busy in return for some instruction. (Since the pool was open for men only quite a few swam naked there, and after trying that once I found I liked it better than wearing a suit). Howie wasn't a very good teacher, but he did at least get me comfortable in the pool and I became able to jump into the deep end and get back to the side of the pool without ingesting any water. I tried to use the correct breathing technique exhaling with my face in the water and breathing on my side during a stroke but I couldn't quite do this without inhaling some water. I could just keep my head out of the water like a turtle and do the "crawl".

That remained "good enough" for a while. When I graduated college and moved to the Boston area to take my first engineering position I was living in an apartment complex with a nearly Olympic sized pool with a diving board. I got brave and tried diving into the pool off the board, feet first initially, then head first. I found I could take several deep breaths and exhale the final one fully and then dive in head first and swim to the bottom (maybe nine to ten feed deep), then kick my way to the surface. This only increased my confidence in the water. I bought a pair of swim goggles and tried to keep my head down while swimming breathing on the stroke. I got a bit better at this.

When I moved to the Fort Lauderdale area I discovered the Swimming Hall of Fame Pool. This IS an Olympic sized pool with many lanes. In addition there is a platform diving pool. (They won't let you use the highest platform unless you are on a diving team or with a school). The middle platform is something like 5 meters high and diving off that is a real rush. I tried it a few times and the feeling of falling from that height is scary! I would lean over the edge to look down and push away from the platform (so not to hit the lower one on the way down!) and enter the water head first and then try to kick my way to the bottom of the pool (IIRC almost 20 feet deep!), and then swim to the surface ending up in the middle of the pool. I felt the pressure in my ears from the depth of the pool!

I never felt comfortable swimming in the ocean (can you blame me after my near disaster) and only swam in pools. I did hang out by the beach in Fort Lauderdale on hot summer days during my bachelor years and rarely went into the water past my waist. One day the ocean was calmer than usual with few tall waves coming ashore so I decided to try an ocean swim. I waded out into waist high water and started to swim out. I tested to see if it was over my head and found I had swam out far enough for that, but the increased buoyancy due to the warm salt water made staying afloat quite easy. Treading water in the ocean is a breeze compared to in the pool. I swam parallel to the shore for a while and noticed I was getting farther away from shore. Either the tide was coming in or I had found myself in a minor current taking me out. I swam a bit further parallel to the shore and then found I could get back in without much effort as I had probably gotten out of the current. (How many times have I heard this advice about rip currents?) I haven't been back to the ocean to swim since then, but I wouldn't be afraid to if the waves were not too strong.

While I still can't swim well ( I never learned how to do anything but the freestyle crawl, and can't do a flip turn at the end of a lap), I feel very comfortable in the water now. It did take me nearly 40 years to get to this point though. Recently my doctor advised me that I could use more exercise. We do have a small pool in the back yard but it takes barely 7 strokes to get from one end to the other so swimming laps is difficult. There is a device that you can install in any backyard pool that creates a counter current to swim against allowing you to swim laps without moving an inch through the water (it's all relative Einstein). At about $7000 I'm not sure that is in the cards though (at least not at the moment). Even so I think I've managed to get enough of a workout in the pool in 20-30 minute sessions for a week now to see a difference.
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56-60, M
Apr 8, 2012