A Swimmer's Tale
So Summerwalk wants to what – have a swim team?? For goodness sake – it sounds like it might inconvenience me somewhat. Destroy the tranquility of the pool for me. That’s right – in the early stages, I wasn’t a supporter. But as time went on, and more information came out, maybe it won’t be so bad, I thought. Maybe we can just avoid those times at the pool. I had actually never witnessed a swim event, except on TV. I really didn’t know exactly what I was protesting. Keep an open mind, I told myself. Isn’t it interesting how glasses can correct your vision to 20/20, but there are no corrective lenses for our perceptions of what we can’t see.
Soon after swimming begins, my son Ben comes to realize that his friends across the street are all swimming on the team. Now we have a crisis on our hands – no one to play with in the evenings!! Immediately he voices his desire to swim on the team too. Now, as a Dad, I’ve heard this song before – not a bad idea from the mouth of a youngster, but are the motivations valid? So I made Ben wait three days, and we talked about it each day. I wanted to make sure he understood that this was an important commitment to a team – not just a new way to access his friends for play. This was much bigger than that, and it would be his first attempt at any kind at organized sport. No matter what I said or asked though, he stood firm on his request. OK – time to test the waters (pun intended).
We make our first practice, find the right people, do some paperwork, and PRESTO! He’s in the water! As I was a bit busy trying to figure it all out and asking annoying questions, I really didn’t see much of his efforts that first day.
On the second day of practice, I sat at a table and began to watch intently. As I expected, Ben found it difficult to get focused on the task at hand, but the coach really seemed to know what to do with him. He had never had a swim lesson – never put his hands in front of him to attempt an official stroke. For goodness sakes – is he going to be able to grasp the idea of swimming practice, much less a meet??
Then, in one sudden, swift moment, sitting alone at that table, I began to cry. That’s right – I sat right there and burst into tears. You see, I never was a good swimmer at all. As a young boy, I simply could not get over my fear of the water, and we rarely had consistent access to water anyway. I remember those days so clearly – my Mom took me to a pool when we lived in Camden for swim lessons. I don’t think I ever took more than one stroke before grabbing the edge of the pool. I was a wall-hugger – plain and simple – and I could not do it. Out of pity I suppose, after witnessing this for several sessions and watching me cry, my Mom finally swept me up and took me home. She reassured me that she loved me dearly and let me know that it was OK, and I put it – and swimming – behind me.
Suddenly, it was like I was watching a movie of myself, and it was an overwhelming revelation. I watched Ben take a stroke, grab the wall, take a stroke, grab the wall… over and over again. I was watching a movie of myself as a young boy, and sometimes emotions take you by surprise – grown man or not. Every minute of my childhood struggles in the pool flashed through my head at light speed. Now what?? Do I scoop him up and take him home?? Or do I wait and see what happens next?? Which is the least cruel? What is the right thing to do? Thank God for sun glasses. I cried nearly the entire session.
Fast forward about six weeks. Today my son received a certificate as the fastest 8 and under boy on the team. He did well in every meet, and won his first individual heat ever in the divisional meet. Seems his work ethic is still pretty weak, but when it’s meet time, he’s swimming like the sharks are behind him. Oh yes, he has far to go, but he has taken the plunge (pun intended again) and came out a winner. Not because he won a race against others, but because he won against the toughest of all foes he will ever face – himself. That’s all I ever wanted to see, but I got far more.
How does it end? It ends with me saying thank you – to all of you. To all of you who did little things and those who did big things. Many of you think you put forth some effort and enjoyed the experience. No, no – much more than that. You changed the course of at least one boy’s life. I had a great time getting to know both parents and kids alike – I never realized we had so many great kids in this community. This was a roaring success for everyone involved I think, and who would have thought that Mr. Negative over here, in the early stages, would end up being a highly professional, skilled, talented, much-sought-after, world-renowned certified time-keeper? When WILL these magazine interviews and talk-show requests end???
Thanks to all of you, who made it happen and made it fun, my son won’t walk in his father’s footsteps. Indeed, he will certainly not swim in his father’s wake!! Is it next year yet??
PS – Although I still don’t swim any official strokes well, I did get over my fear of water long ago and took the plunge in the middle of the lake many times during my competitive bass fishing days. No permanent scarring!
PostScript – one year later
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone involved with SAIL and the Green Divisionals. The folks at Botany Woods do one heck of a job hosting the divisionals, and our event seemed to run smooth as silk this weekend. Our second year of involvement with SAIL as a neighborhood has proven to be an incredible success, bringing us all together as a close-knit family like never before. I can’t say enough about how much fun and excitement we have had this year. Thanks to all of you who make all this work behind the scenes! — Troy Staton, BMSW Team