I’ve been afraid of the water since I was a little boy. Actually, to be more precise, I’ve been afraid of the deep water since I was a little boy. I’d ask the same question when, as a family, we’d be approaching a pool, lake, river. Is it over my head? And no, I’ve not forgotten oceans. Never mind oceans. I know all about undertows and know they’d drag me to my doom. Forget oceans.
My fear had nothing to do with my ability to swim. I was a fairly decent swimmer as long as I knew I could touch the bottom with my feet. The moment I couldn’t, panic set in.
My fear of the deep water has always been with me.
Looking back. Both sets of grandparents lived in New Jersey. My father’s folks lived in Ocean Grove and my mother’s lived in Rumson. Both lived near the water. In fact, my mother’s parents lived right on the water. They had a couple of boats and, hanging off the end of the dock, was a minnow trap. One of my chores was retrieve the minnow trap every morning. One morning I fell in. I must’ve been about five or six I suppose. The water was green and I was terrified flailing and then a strong hand grabbed me and pulled me to safety. My father had saved my life. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. Although he had died long before I got shot, there is no way I would’ve got back to my feet had it not been for my father’s presence in that moment with me.
Anyway, falling in, as you might imagine, did nothing to erode my fear. My next attempt at taking on the fear occurred when we were all at a public pool. It occurred to me that if I tossed in a kick board and swam to it, and then swam back holding on to it without touching the bottom of the pool, I could work my way from the shallow end to the deep end. This is exactly what I did. Over and over I’d toss the board into the center of the pool, swim to it, hold onto it, and swim back. I made it all the way to the deep end and then, in an act that amazed even me, I jumped off the diving board into the pool and swam like hell to the side of the pool. When I got back to where my family was they applauded. They’d been watching.
Still, my fear of the deep water persisted.
Which brings me to the present. I moved to my new home in Berkshire County, Massachusetts a few months ago. I then got a membership in the YMCA. I knew, when I did so, that I was going to give swimming another go. It is unquestionably the best all around exercise there is and there is no doubt exercise benefits all areas of life.
September fifth was my first time in the pool. I swam one lap. I got out and sat in the sauna. The sauna, as far as I’m concerned, is the pot of gold at the end of the workout rainbow. The second time I went into the pool was on the fifteenth. I swam five laps. I began to increase the number of times I swam weekly and soon made sure to be there when the pool opened at 6 a.m. It was not lost on me that the man who swam to my left every morning is going to celebrate his 77th birthday this February. He swims 36 laps every morning, one mile to be exact. The woman who swims to my right every morning swims in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 laps. She is 86. The man who swims to her right swims a mile every morning, he’s 70. You picking up on a theme here?
Anyway, I’ve been keeping at it. I now swim a mile every time I go to the pool, which is about five times a week.
Oh, and one more thing, the fear is gone. The only way to overcome fear is to head in its direction. Sometimes, you just have to swim there.