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My semester as the Village Idiot

Posted Apr 05 2013 8:58am

Me inside a large tree during my college years. This picture has nothing to do with the story, but I needed a picture from my college years with me looking like an idiot, and since I was a boring  good girl, this is all I got!

When I was a child, my caring, responsible parents took my brothers to swimming lessons. As you might guess, they learned to swim there. By the time their blessed third child came around, they were apparently over water safety, and just waited for me to grow tall enough to survive in the four foot and smart enough to stay out of the deep end.  Which I did. I did not, however, learn how to swim.

So, many moons later, at the ripe old age of 20, and lacking a PE credit I needed to graduate, I decided to take “Beginning Swimming” for PE. I was actually pretty scared but I decided I really did need how to know how to swim, so I went for it. There were about 10 of us in the class, and I discovered on the first day that…I was the only one who didn’t know how to swim. The rest were hardly beginners. I mean, I think if you already know how to do the breast stroke, you are not a beginner. If you can’t go under water without holding your nose, you are a beginner.

So not only was I having to appear in front of my peers in a bathing suit twice a week, I was also the dullest pencil in the box for sure.

Did my peers make fun of me for my lack of ability? Oh no! Rather,they practically coddled me. I quickly became the class pet. The teacher, who was also the swim coach, pretty much let one of her teaching assistants/swim team members take on the duty of personally teaching me and just blew her whistle while everyone else practiced their strokes.

Class after class, every time I reached a new swimming milestone, the class members cheered for me. The first time I had to dive, I was terrified, and everyone gathered around to um, “encourage” me while my student instructor pushed me in. (They also cheered when he fished me out.)

By the end of the semester, I could swim. Swim laps, even. Breathe to the side, dive, and go under without holding my breath. I found myself quite pleased and rather surprised! I never got beyond freestyle and backstroke, but I could swim!  (I still can, but I must say I am rather out of practice on the laps and side-breathing, whew!) I even frequently returned to the pool to swim laps for exercise for the remainder of my college career.

Now when I go to the pool with my kids, I feel very comfortable in the water. (And yes, they’ve had swimming lessons. Sophie’s are still ongoing! I want them to learn before adulthood.) And sometimes, when I have something difficult ahead of me in life, I close my eyes and think back to that moment when a crowd of students stood behind me with encouraging words and my instructor pushed me in. I think because of that moment, I’ve been able to give myself more than a few pushes, and I’m grateful.

Have you ever been in a group where you were the underdog? What did you learn from that experience?

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