As adults, we assume many things about other adults. We assume other adults graduated high school because we all remember those people who graduated and thought, "Well jeez, if he did it, anybody can."
We assume everyone knows how to do taxes because we do it ourselves (or pay for someone to do it) each year. Or we assume every other adult knows how to drive a car because it's something most of us have been doing for years.
But those assumptions aren't all true. A number of adults haven't graduated high school or never figured out their taxes or learned how to drive a car. But because we did graduate or we can drive a car, it's so ingrained in the fabric of our lives, we often assume every other adult is like us.
I bring this all up in relation to something I can't do that other adults assume I can. I can't swim. Most people started when they were kids, picked it up quickly, and haven't thought twice about it since.
But guess what? I never learned. And when I bring it up to people, the shock on their faces is apparent. They are confused, amazed, pitying...a wide array of emotions. But it's true--I never learned to swim.
My parents said they put me in lessons, but I don't think that's true. I'm the last child of four, which means my parents were pretty tired by then. I probably said I didn't really want to get swim lessons so they obliged, didn't get me any, let me sit on the couch and play video games all summer (which I loved) and that's how you become an adult who can't swim.
Because of my inability to swim (or even float), I've avoided water at all costs. Seeing Jaws at age eight probably helped keep me out of the water, too. I worked every summer at my parent's golf course, so I wasn't ever up on a lake in a cabin where swimming would be important. I avoided water parks and opted instead for roller coaster parks like Great America. I never had a friend with a pool, either, so no problem there.
I was perfectly fine not being able to swim but my wife, a former life guard and aquatic director, was shocked by this revelation. Since she's known me, she told me I needed to get lessons but I resisted. Then, we got pregnant, and the need became more dire. If my son was in the water and something happened and I didn't know how to swim, well, that would be bad. So I decided to get adult swim lessons.
Apparently it's not that uncommon because when I called, the woman on the other line didn't hesitate. I was set up with a preliminary appointment so an instructor could see my skills and then we'd be off. And what skills I had.
I walked in the first day pretty nervous. Incredibly nervous in fact. It didn't help that the small pool had three children under 10 getting lessons as well (all swimming better than I could ever hope to swim). I met my instructor, a girl named Teaghen who swam for a local high school, and she asked what I can do.
"Drown. I can drown," I replied.
She put me through the ropes with a kick board and floaty devices and I tried to learn how to swim. It is not easy. I mostly learned how to swallow water and flip my hair back after a pathetic attempt to swim.
Despite the blubber surrounding most of my body, I don't float as well as some might expect. I tend to sink pretty quickly, especially my legs, so the motion of swimming is a real challenge. Thankfully the pool was like five feet deep on this side so drowning was less of a concern.
I did some glides and attempted some motions, usually ending with me swallowing more water, coughing, and trying not to throw up. It wasn't pretty early on.
I had four lessons and figured by the end of the fourth lesson, I'd either be Michael Phelps or never step foot in a pool again.
I can confidently say I can now swim on my back. I'm not sure how or why this works well for me, but it's pretty easy and I can go for a while without getting too tired. I assume it's because I can stick my belly up in the air and it's like a flotation device for the rest of my body.
I can tread water for about 15 seconds, always within arms reach of the side of the pool, before getting too tired or panicking when the water starts to touch my ears. I mean, I'm better than it used to be, but if I fell off a boat, I'm still probably in trouble
Finally, as far as actual, normal swimming goes, I'm a work-in-progress. I can do the motion of swimming, but every time I turn to breath, I seem to forget the actual breathing part. I envision what swimmers look like when I watch the Olympics and the big, huge open mouth they have when they turn. So I turn, open my mouth huge, ready for a gulp of air, but then, like, forget the air part. I put my head back down in the water, realize I have no air, panic and stop swimming.
I can't tell you why I do it. I really can't. I know I'm rushing every part of my swimming stroke. Instead of trying to be slow and smooth, I'm splashing around like Sean Brody at the beginning of Jaws 4 before he gets eaten by a shark. But it's a weird quirk I'm still working on. I also have a partially deviated septum, so breathing out my nose while swimming is challenging, too. Pretty sure I can thank Josh Flickinger's last Barn Ball tournament for that one.
But I can get from one side of the pool to the other (sideways), which is better than I could do when I started. I think I know how to do it, but just need more practice to do it. My wife asked if this meant that we could get a pool, which I had to gently tell her that no, teacher's never get pools.
I still have a long way to go but hopefully this non-swimmer will soon think that drowning is just one option when I go in the water instead of the only option. However, if I ever see one shark fin in the water, you can count me out of swimming for forever. For-ever.