Learning to Swim

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Staring up at the deflected rays of sunlight as I slowly descended toward the bottom, I began to realize the severity of my situation. As I fought to keep water from flooding my lungs, fear started inundating my mind. Only moments ago I had been sitting comfortably along the side of the pool, my feet dangling in the pleasant water. But now, as I sank lower, the water no longer felt warm. The sun was no longer baking my sun-screened back. Warmth was now replaced by a stingingly cold fear as my feet touched down on the smooth ceramic tiles. The bright sky appeared distorted by the twelve feet of calm water above me.Panic forced me to flail my arms and legs in a desperate attempt to propel myself to the top, but I had never learned to swim and these awkward movements had frighteningly little effect. Death seemed inevitable when holding my breath became increasingly difficult. I felt like I had been under for hours, but only a few seconds had elapsed from the moment I foolishly dove into the deep end. Usually I avoided the diving board, but that day my embarrassment about not being able to swim trumped my fear and common sense. At the bottom of the pool my feeble act of bravery couldn’t save me; my survival instincts were not good enough to overcome my inability to swim. Just then I heard the muffled sound of a whistle above me, and a lifeguard swam me up to the surface. Not surprisingly, this traumatic event made me, a ten year-old boy, terrified of water. Adding even more anxiety was the fact that I was scheduled to leave for summer camp two weeks after the near drowning. As suggested by its name – Surprise Lake Camp – many of the activities there involved swimming and water. Unbeknownst to me, my parents had sent me to the camp in part so that I could learn to swim, but the first “Instructional Swimming” class was humiliating. That day, the counselors tested each camper’s swimming proficiency. When my turn came, I refrained from even attempting to pass the test. Informing the lifeguard that I was not able to swim made me feel inferior to the rest of the boys in my group, who passed with ease. My parents, realizing that perhaps I was not ready to enter the water, requested that I be excused from all activities involving swimming.My initial reaction to their intervention was one of relief. However, being the lone camper who was excused made me feel isolated from my friends. I excelled at other sports and activities, but my inability to swim overshadowed them. At the conclusion of camp, I realized that I could not let one instance of failure create such an overwhelming fear in me. I decided to dedicate the second half of that summer to learning how to swim and removing the black cloud from over my head. Motivated, I returned home in August with a clear goal, and my father was happy to see that I was determined to learn how to swim. With a month left until school began, my father and I agreed to go to the local swimming pool every day for several hours. However, the first time we went to the pool, my eagerness to succeed in this new venture mingled with doubt. The last time I went into a swimming pool, I had to be rescued by a lifeguard. Nevertheless, I joined my father in the shallow end of the pool, and after a few minutes of jitters, I calmed down. The first day did not include any lessons on swimming, but rather just allowed me to get acclimated to being back in the water. During subsequent sessions my father taught me the fundamentals of swimming. Success did not come easily at the beginning. My movements were awkward and uncoordinated, but I was not deterred. My father’s support and instruction allowed me to steadily improve my technique. Paying close attention to every word he said and every move he made, I was able to glean important information on how to succeed. As the weeks progressed my comfort level in the pool increased dramatically. My movements no longer seemed forced, and I looked forward to our trips to the pool were. Finally, one day, I was ready to swim laps by myself. As I completed the strokes with confidence, I was filled with pride.The sense of achievement will always bring a smile to my face. After being shell-shocked from this near death experience I had thought I would never enter a swimming pool again. However, after realizing that avoiding water was irrational, I committed myself to improve upon a weakness. Relentlessly practicing with my father, I was able to overcome my fear of water. This became the first time I witnessed how diligence and hard work can lead to positive results. There will be many instances throughout my life where I will fail. However, I now know that failures are not necessarily absolute. My weaknesses will be transformed into strengths through strong commitment and a solid work ethic.

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