“The fact is that in order to do any thing in this world worth doing, we must not stand shivering on the bank thinking of the cold and the danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.” Sydney Smith
I was thinking about this quote today. The reason for that is one of my students spent her spring break preparing for her swimming test to become qualified to earn her Senior Life Saving Certification and become a lifeguard. She is fairly athletic, and my guess is that she did pass. She was nervous about it and we talked about her upcoming test. I told her to swim hard and be confident. I had quite an unusual experience when I took my Lifesaving class.
I took the class when I was about 14 or 15 as I recall. It was taught at out town pool, and we had class 6 mornings a week. We swam I don’t even know how many laps each morning. It was very hard work. I was a good swimmer. However, I lacked two things: stamina and the ability to do lengthy, uninterrupted underwater swimming. These were definite hindrances. During class we had to swim about 20 laps, then swim underwater to pick up a heavy brick and bring it to the side of the pool. When I took the class I was about 4′ 11″ tall and weighed about 70 pounds. For whatever reason, when I tried to swim to the bottom of the deep end after swimming all those lengths, my little body would pop right back up. It took a lot of work on my part to get to the bottom of the pool and stay there long enough to pick up a brick that was really heavy for me.
The coach would always have me rescue the hugest guy in the class. He didn’t do it to be mean. Rather, he did it to demonstrate that one could rescue any size person as long as you use the appropriate strategy. During the final week of the class we had a rehearsal for the real test. We were each partnered–one as the lifeguard the other as the victim. In the first round I was one of the guards. My counterpart (Tony) was the victim—and he was a HS football player. I was in the lane closest to the wall. My victim was out ahead of me, and I had just completed about 20 laps. Suddenly he went into the drowning act.
As I approached him, visible vapor came out of one of the pool vents and I breathed it in just as I turned my head mid-crawl to get more air. I instantly choked and inhaled water. I couldn’t breathe or move through the water. As I started to go under, Tony — in one deft move, scooped me up and hoisted me to the concrete beside the pool. “Coach!” he screamed as he got out. Suddenly, the coach was banging me on the back and clearing my air passageway. I came to and saw there were other kids with their swim teachers that were having trouble.
In a blur, the pool director put me and 4 other kids in his station wagon and sped to the ER. It turned out, the pool pump system had malfunctioned ~ spewing chlorine gas right at the 5 of us. We got to the hospital and they examined us. The other kids were in worse shape than I was. They reached my folks (who were out of town; I was babysitting my brothers). Then they called my grandparents in the next town over. Anyway, the other kids were admitted to the hospital (after a day or two they were fine). The pool director took me back to the pool.
My swim coach was there waiting for me and so were my brothers. My brothers had been in the midst of their swim lessons when this happened. I told the swim coach I was going to get dressed. “Nope, come here,” he said. He took me to the side of the pool. “Jump in and swim 2 laps for me” he said. “I’m too tired”. “No”, he said. “No shivering and no hesitating. If you do not get in and do this NOW, TODAY, you might never be able to make yourself swim again”. I froze. He picked me up and threw me in. Oh yeah, he sure did. I was mad!! But the coach said “swim 2 laps. Do not stop. Your brothers are watching and so am I. You can do this.” I was really, really mad at him. But I did it. I swam furiously. I thrashed and attacked that water. When I finished, I boosted myself out of the pool, grabbed a towel and stomped my foot. “Why did you do that? It could have happened again!” I yelled. “Better to go down fighting than to stand on the edge of the pool shivering for the rest of your life” he said. “Never forget that”. and I never did.
The very next day was my swim test. I was exhausted and my lungs were still pretty raspy. So I ran into some trouble with swimming my laps quickly enough, but I managed. I did my surface rescue okay. I was paired with Tony again. He pretended to struggle (he was supposed to struggle more, but he wouldn’t). I managed to even get him out of the pool. But then when I had to swim 2 more lengths and get the heavy brick from the bottom of the deep end, I just couldn’t. I got to the deep end, but no matter how hard I tried I could not get my body to stay down long enough to reach that brick. This too was a timed event. Time ran out. So I did not pass, I did not earn my Lifesaving Certificate. Everyone in the class passed but me. But the coach said to me,” you succeeded at something much more important; and that action will last your whole life”.
He was right, of course. And no, I didn’t take Lifesaving again. You see, I only took it because we always took swim lessons in the summer, and that was the last class. I had already passed all the others. I had zero interest in being a lifeguard ~ I would have enjoyed teaching swimming lessons. But having to sit in the chair and NOT swim and watch others swim ~~ let’s just say it would be hell for me! But God’s loving care for me has always meant this: when I need comfort and tender reassurance, He sends me someone that gives that to me. That is a good thing. On the other hand, when I am shivering, He always sends me someone to throw me in the pool….and that has also been a good thing. A very good thing. It has been one of my life’s greatest gifts.