I didn’t learn to swim until I was 11. I was kind of embarrassed about it for a while. I’d go to pool parties and see kids doing flips and jackknifes off the diving board as I sat with my feet in the water on the shallow end, being the “judge” of the diving contest. “Too much splash, 6 out of 10.”
It’s not like I didn’t have the access. I grew up Michigan where we have lakes like woah. And many of my suburban buds had pools. Above ground mostly. But pools nonetheless. I can’t really tell you why it took me so long to learn. I remember my parents trying to teach me. I’m sure I was just being a dick and didn’t pay attention to that life-saving lesson on how to doggie-paddle. You know, that thing that all dogs can do naturally.
Once at summer camp, all the kids in my age group did a swim test. We lined up and then one at a time, were supposed to swim across the pool. As my turn approached, I started to freak out. I asked the kid ahead of me “what are you gonna do?” He calmly said “backstroke.” Jesus! He is so good at swimming that he is gonna go backwards? Kill me now.
The kid ahead of me jumped in and did his thing. The lifeguard assigned each kid a “fish” ranking based on how good they were. “Shark” yelled the lifeguard to my backstroke friend. I got in the water and started to flail my limbs, trying to copy what I’ve seen in movies and cartoons. I didn’t get far before I heard “Guppy.” I don’t remember anything after that. I assume everyone laughed at me, I peed my trunks and ran away crying. Either way, this situation had to change.
I asked my mom to sign me up for swim classes. It was summer, so I rode my BMX to the local high school where class was held. I changed, showered and walked out to the olympic-sized pool to find a cute female instructor and half a dozen little kids. Like 5 and 6 year olds. I can feel everyone looking at me. One tough 5 year old asks me “aren’t you a little old for this class?” Him and his buddies all laugh. I answer with “I’m not too old for your mom.” A good comeback, but maybe the context of the joke is lost on a 5 year old. Long story short, I learned to swim, beat up that little bully and got with his mom. I kept taking lessons until I reached Junior lifeguard.
Moral of the story: it is never too late to learn. I turned something I was embarrassed about into a strength. So keep trying and learning. And never take shit from a 5 year old.