At the age of about 9, I was at summer camp and we went to the pool. Everybody had fun at the pool, but the thing I remember most about it was the slide. Person after person went down that slide, squealing and laughing; having a great time. I wanted to try it too. So, I went over to the slide, climbed the ladder and slid down.
And went under the water.
I struggled desperately to get my head back above the water, gasping for air. Then went under again. I remember going up and down, struggling to get above the water, trying to breath. That desperate fight for air, which in that moment was a fight for life.
I'm sure somebody pulled me out before long. There were camp counselors and there were life guards. I also remember the question they asked me.
"Why did you go down the slide if you can't swim?"
I don't remember the answer I gave. I don't know if I had one. I think I watched everybody else doing it and figured it looked easy enough. It probably wasn't that far from the slide to the shallow area, though I'll admit I don't remember. What I do remember was the panic.
That's a panic that I still feel rising up within me to this day. When my husband and I were dating, we went to a lake together. I was willing to go to the point where we were almost neck deep, but when he came to give me a big bear hug, I panicked at the loss of stability and control.
Just a few months ago, I was in an aquafit class, and suddenly realized I had floated to a spot where I couldn't touch the bottom of the pool. I felt my throat closing off in that desperate feeling.
I didn't take swimming lessons as a child. Money was tight in my family and we didn't live in an area with beaches or lakes, so it wasn't a necessity the way it might have been if we had. Once I was older, I wasn't that interested in taking swimming lessons. I was perfectly comfortable in water up to about chest deep and I saw no need to go in water deeper then that.
Now, I have set a goal for myself to do a triathlon. Yet, I'm reading accounts of the start of triathlons, where everybody is a swarm heading for the lake, and it's not uncommon to get elbowed or kicked in the initial part of the swim. I'll admit that makes me feel pretty panicky. Having said that, I intend to do my first triathlon in a place where the swim is in a pool.
But, I still don't know how to swim.
In about 48 hours, I'm going to be walking into a pool and starting a lesson. That part doesn't scare me. What does scare me is the fact that I suspect the lesson will require me to go into water where I can't touch the bottom, and I don't think life jackets are an accepted piece of swimming apparel. I do know one thing though.
I'm not going down the slide.