Tuesday, August 2, 2011

treading water (m)

April 15th, 1973.  College acceptances.  I wait by the mailbox for the mail.  I see a thick envelope from my first choice college.  I'm in.  I'm excited.

A week later, another letter from them.  Is it the anticipated financial aid package?  No...something about a "required swim test".  WHAT???

I almost drowned when I was 6.  I had not been into the water above my waist since then.  Now I'm being told I have to pass a fifty-yard swim test as a college requirement.  As a requirement for graduating this college.  Had I known, I might not have applied.

Rather than have the swim test hang over my head for four years like the sword of Damocles,  I set out to learn to swim.  My friend Cathy had a pool at her house on the South Shore of Boston.  A long commute, but pool access and swimming lessons (provided graciously by her sister, L, who years later came out as a lesbian) were free.

I learned to swim over the course of two months. 

During Orientation Week at college, I signed up to take the swim test.  Holly, a member of the star Division 1 swim team, administered my test.  An Amazon in a Speedo, she barked the rules to me and I did it.  Fifty yards.  It wasn't pretty, but I did it.  Check that box.

Just as I'm turning to leave the pool (forever), Holly bellows for me to come back.  There's another part of the test.....one has to tread water for two minutes in the deep end of the pool.  I did not practice this, but how hard could it be?  Also, with the swim test under my belt, I was feeling like Esther Williams.

I jump into the deep end and start to tread, whatever that means.  I think it just means stay afloat.  I'm moving my arms and legs and hanging out in the deep end.  I check the sign on the edge of the pool....12 feet...which makes me very nervous.  I imagine sharks...more nervous.  I imagine the Titanic and the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean...most nervous.

"Holly!"  I call out.  "How long have I been here?" 

One minute.  One eternal minute.

After the two-minute mark, I doggie paddle to the side of the pool, climb the ladder and get out, breathless.  I never realized how long two minutes could be.

More than that, however, the experience taught me a life lesson: Sometimes it takes great effort to stay in one place.

Today, I weighed myself.  Despite bike rides, water aerobic classes (shallow end) and being fairly disciplined about my eating, I weigh the same as I did a month ago.

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