Swimming Lessons, 1974 | Mark’s Remarks - Republic-Times | News

Swimming Lessons, 1974 | Mark’s Remarks

By on July 4, 2018 at 10:30 am

It was the summer of 1974 and my mother decided it was time for me to learn to swim.  There I stood in my swim trunks, pasty white and skinny as a bean pole. I was scared to death of water.

It was early morning and the water in the pool was bone-chilling. Coupled with my fear of water, it wasn’t pleasant. I knew a few of the kids who were in the beginner’s class with me, but that didn’t make anything easier. I had no determination, and I hoped I would somehow miraculously learn to swim without having to go under water or into the murky, deeper end of the pool.

Our instructors were high school and college-aged kids, although at the time I didn’t know this. There were a lot of pretty girls running around in their swimsuits, telling us all how cute we were and trying to be gentle. Yet there were some who had that wiseacre attitude that comes with being a teenager, and some of them didn’t seem to have much patience with us little ones.

I remember our first lesson was in doing “bobs,” which I was pretty good at. The purpose of the exercise was designed to get us used to going under water. I got a good death grip on the side of the pool and started the rhythm of the exercise. Bob under, come up and take a breath, bob under. 

Next, we braced ourselves on the side of the pool and practiced pushing off, being caught by our wiseacre teenage instructors. Some of the kinder girls would tell us we did a good job.

I was always relieved when the time came to get out and dry off. I would be so brave after I got out of the water, telling all who would listen what a good swimmer I was. My mother who watched from the sideline probably knew better, but she didn’t say anything.

The following week (or it could have been the next day), we would start with actual swimming. I think our first advanced lesson was moving our arms and feet at the same time.  I’m sure there was plenty of practice in the shallow end, moving our arms and legs. I remember being held up by some of the instructors, trying to move my legs and arms at the same time.

For a while, we remained in the shallow end and did various exercises, and I began to think this swimming stuff was easier than I thought. My positive thoughts were only to be crushed soon when the instructor announced the final phase of our lessons.

We were to hang on the side of the pool, in deeper water.  When it was time, we would go under water, moving our arms and legs at the same time, and swim to our instructors. This struck fear in my heart but I still decided I’d have to do it.

I held on to the side of the pool for dear life and soon it was my turn. I pushed off as instructed and headed under water, sure that I would drown.  My lifeless, pasty white and skinny little body would float up on top of the water and everyone would feel sorry for me.

I wiggled around, trying to move my arms and legs at the same time, but probably flailing instead of swimming.  I couldn’t hear anything and I couldn’t see anything. I wondered when I would reach my instructor, waiting miles away to catch me and bring me up to the surface for some life-giving fresh air.

My instinct was to save myself. I remember reaching out and grabbing on to the first thing I could get my hands on, which happened to be my female instructor’s chest regions. I popped up to the top of the water at that point, and she announced in shock and humor what I had grabbed.

The other lifeguards screamed with laughter and all I could do was nervously join in. After all, I hadn’t meant to. I was 7 years old, after all. But even if she herself knew that, she still gave me that look females often give males.

I didn’t get a Red Cross pin the next day. I would have to go through more training to finally learn to swim. I’ve often wondered if my instructor was biased or maybe even a little upset at me.  

I should have told her I was sorry, I guess.

Those of us who failed got a lollipop or something.

Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.