When I was a kid, there was nothing more exciting than heading to our club pool, swimming at team practice, and then waiting until the pool opened at 11 am for the entire day. The Almighty diving board beckoned, and my friends and I would spend hours performing all varieties of dives, flips, and of course, cannon balls (except when we were rudely interrupted for 15 minutes by “Adult Swim,” sigh…).
After my country club’s swim experience ended, I began attending, then working at, an overnight YMCA camp in the mid 1970s. Naturally, there were plenty of swimming opportunities for me, but this time it was on vast and beautiful Millsite Lake. There, I learned waterskiing, sailing, and even snorkeling, but the biggest thrill of all was taking a boat to the opposite side of the lake, crawling and climbing my way up a 30-foot cliff, then jumping off some jagged rocks into the dark water below. I thought I was invincible – especially since I was donned in my swimsuit, cutoffs, and navy-faded, trail-worn Converse sneakers, so my feet wouldn’t smack against the water nor get cut open in the nearby rocks. We would jump like it was an effortless feat, and back then, well, at least to me and my cliff-loving colleagues – it was just another fun experience at Camp.
Then came lifeguarding jobs and water safety instruction, and there was usually a diving board nearby. More fun for me! Combine that with 8 years of high school and collegiate swimming, and thankfully I never experienced pool burnout. The cool thing about our college pool was that it had a separate diving well with two 1-meter boards, and one 3-meter board. My talented housemate was on the diving team and performed the most amazing flips and twists with barely a splash. Sometimes after our swim practice, I’d head over to “the well” and stand on the end of the 3-meter board and simply jump in, knowing that an attempt at something stupid off that board would likely end in some nasty bruising and endless teasing and laughter from my diver housemate and swim teammates.
Fast forward to now, where I can be found swimming at our local Y about 3 times a week. I’m almost always there on “My Sunday,” which is my hour and a half away from work/family/dogs/life to enjoy that precious alone time, usually in Lane 3.
On the Y’s monthly competitive pool calendar, I noticed the 1-meter diving board was open from Noon-1 p.m. on My Sunday. Well now, wouldn’t that be fun to re-live my childhood diving prowess after a swim workout? Why, of course! So, I strategically planned a 30-minute swim at Noon (sharp!) then I’d spend the remaining half-hour doing what I thought I did best, demonstrating to the world my awesome, signature inward dive. Ah, such a daredevil am I!
I stepped up the 3 rungs and stared down at the long, gritty, sea foam green behemoth.
I timidly shuffled a few feet down to the adjustment wheel and spun it forward with my foot to avoid any extra bounciness. Then I ever so gingerly walked to the end, which started sagging, just like my confidence. I looked down at the shimmering water below, and I might as well have been back on that 30-foot cliff or at the end of the 3-meter board looking down at “the well.” I continued to shake and was about to “about-face,” but then, an angel appeared.
Along came Alice, a senior citizen who knows no fear. She and her friend Bill show up to use that board faithfully every Sunday, chamois in hand, to dive, and dive some more (Alice even flips, I kid you not). She took one look at the terror in my face and said, “I’ve seen this all before honey, just take a practice jump!”
Practice jump? Who in their right mind “practices” on this thing?
(Sorry, Alice, but this is NOT practice, this is SURVIVAL)
My ego, quite deflated by now, told me to humbly obey her orders and just get it the heck over with. So I turned around and just stood there, shivering, with my toes curled over the end of the monster. I took just a moment to recite a quick Hail Mary, and performed what we called at our club pool “The Dead Man’s Walk” – just step off the end with arms at one’s sides – so that one step I took – and with little fanfare.
Plunk! Bubble bubble bubble…..
I popped right back up to the surface, all thanks to The Good Lord giving me the wonderful gift of extreme buoyancy. Alice applauded and exclaimed, “you did it!” – just like a schoolteacher would say to a child after reciting her ABCs. That inner child in me beamed with pride. I looked up at her, smiled, and thanked her, then thanked God again, knowing that surviving that first leap was truly was a miracle in my mind.
So now, part of My Sundays are spent “at the board” with new friends Alice and Bill. I watch with admiration Bill’s careful practice jumps and Alice’s skill to easily balance with her heels hanging at the end of the board, all before doing a back flip. Their unique ability to thwart any fear of height or potential pain – and as senior citizens – is amazing to me.
I continue to overcome that strange anxiety I developed from simply NOT diving off a diving board in almost 35 years. Currently, my repertoire consists of a solid forward jump and a front swan dive from a few steps back with little – or very little – bounce. That “signature” inward of mine is being slowly revisited. While my diving list is fairly short, each week I get a bit surer of myself, as there is still a lot of fight left in me. But, I can promise you this…those navy Converse sneakers will never, ever, EVER see the heights – or depths – of Millsite Lake again.