Slam dunking

I’m preparing for the Olympics by watching the trials this weekend. And as I watch the swimming and diving events, I am reminded of my childhood.

Summer meant swimming lessons and a daily opportunity to drown, or so it seemed to me.

I am not a swimmer and I owe my lack of prowess to an awful six years of swimming lessons.

Back in the ’60s, swimming lessons were not taught by the skilled instructors who make swimming fun for the 3-year-olds of today. Instead, it was taught by nasty teen-agers who seemed to have as their main goal scaring the crap out of the shivering 8-year-olds who were afraid to jump in the pool.

While watching the ladies’ race in the 400 meters medley tonight, I was reminded of my own attempts at the freestyle, backstroke and breast stroke. I never got as far as the butterfly.

In order to pass, I needed to make it down the length of the pool in all those strokes. I never did learn how to breathe properly for the freestyle. I liked backstroke because it kept my face out of the water, but I tended to backstroke in circles. As for the breast stroke, I managed to keep one foot on the bottom and hopped down the length of the pool instead of kicking as I was supposed to do.

All of that was bad enough but the vile teen-age boy who was teaching my class decided we all had to jump in the deep end and swim until we could stand. As the shortest person in my class, I had to swim the farthest. I thought I was going to drown and I was very sure that nasty teen was not going to rescue me.

But, wait, there was worse to come. It was called The Tower.

One of the requirements for passing the class was to jump off The Tower. You didn’t have to dive, but you did have to jump.

With my heart in my throat, I approached the stairs, and then in my 9-year-old wisdom, I looked up and decided I couldn’t do it. So I wrapped my arms around the blue steel support columns and even with all his strength, that teen tormentor could not unpeel me from that column. As he was yelling at me and threatening me, I explained through my tears that I would never find myself in a situation where I would have to jump off a cliff, so I could see no reason for this exercise in stupidity. (Yes, even then, I questioned authority.)

I don’t know how I ever passed that class because I never did jump off the tower.

But I was right. I’ve never found myself in a situation where I had to jump off a cliff.