My elementary school years went fairly smoothly until fourth grade. This is when we were introduced to swim class. My greatest fear would be met head on, and I would lose the battle for several years.
Midland school didn’t have a swimming school. Every Tuesday afternoon, we would take a school bus to Liberty school for swim class. The bus ride was the highlight of this most difficult time in my life. The bus driver always seemed quite cheerful and talkative; however, his cheerfulness couldn’t help ease the pain of my worst hour of the week.
After arriving at Liberty school, we were introduced to our routine for the year. Mr. Munro, our teacher, told us that we were to totally undress. This was difficult for me because I had never done this before in public. What even made it more difficult is that we were not to wear swim trunks. We would be spending the whole time in swim class in our birthday suits. To this day, nobody has given a satisfactory explanation to this rule. The girls wore swimsuits during their swim time. Why didn’t my parents complain? Why didn’t any parent complain?! Why didn’t some newspaper expose the practice? I can’t imagine this happening today.
After we took off our clothes, Mr. Munro told us that we had to shower before we entered the pool area. After the shower, he would inspect each one of us by rubbing our collarbone area and our wrist. If no dry skin came off, we were good to go. Eventually, we learned that we only needed to clean our collarbone area and our wrist.
Now, the worst part would soon come. We were to get into the pool. The pool at Liberty, looking back, was not very large, but it looked like an ocean to me. The largest pool I had ever entered was my bathtub. I would have been quite content if it had remained that way.
When I entered the pool, I lived in the shallow end. I may have ventured out a bit with a board to keep me afloat, but I still didn’t go any further than where my head could stay above water. Mr. Munro probably taught many a boy to swim, but I wasn’t one of them.
There were many Tuesdays when I would come to school feeling quite well, but by afternoon, I would develop a stomach ache. I wasn’t making this up, I was so afraid of swim class that I would literally get sick. I would be sent to the nurse’s office and she would give me some kind peppermint to settle my stomach. The bus would leave and I was spared one week of agony in swim class.
When I arrived at Ford Middle School, I think Mr DeSantis, our swim teacher, took me on as a personal challenge. It seemed like I was the only student in sixth grade who couldn’t swim. Mr. DeSantis tried and tried to get me to leave the float board and start swimming. Soon, he threatened me with an “F” if I didn’t start to swim. Finally, the day came when I actually swam the width of the Ford School pool. I had learned to swim! I avoided my “F”!
However, Mr. DeSantis was not done with me. In eighth grade, I had a new challenge. Mr. DeSantis said that I must JUMP into the deep end feet first and hit the bottom of the pool and bounce up and swim the LENGTH of the pool. If I didn’t accomplish this feat, I would receive an “F”. I don’t know how many weeks passed, but every time I would get to the edge of the pool, I would think that I would never survive the JUMP.
You also had to know that Mr. DeSantis was a bit overweight. Could he save me if I were to drown? I had even asked him once: “Why gym teachers tended to be heavy?” I do not know what possessed me to do this, but he chuckled and said: “When we were younger we ate a lot and we exercised a lot. When got older we kept eating, but we didn’t exercise as much.” I have not forgotten this lesson in my life.
Finally, judgment day came. If I didn’t jump, I would get a big “F” on my report card. With great fear, I looked over the side of the pool. I looked at Mr. DeSantis, who said: “Don’t worry, you can do it.” I don’t know how I did it, but I jumped in and my feet hit the bottom of the pool and I bounced back up and swam the length of the pool. That was the last time I have ever jumped into a pool.
Even today, I am not much for the water, but I can swim a few laps in the pool, and maybe swim enough to save myself. I am thankful for Mr. DeSantis and his great patience with me. He helped me to finally meet my great fear and win the battle.
P.S. Please visit my other blog where I talk about spiritual topics such as: “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”, and “Five Great Promises as I Travel this Life”. The address is: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.