I was afraid of deep water for the first 39 years of my life. From being a young child, my mother sort of passed her fears onto me. (She never learnt to swim because of her anxiety) Let me start from the beginning. When I was a little 4 year old, I would play on our slum of a back garden (Building site) whilst my brother and sister were at school, and one day, whilst my mum was indoors, I inexplicably decided it would be a jolly good idea to pick up a long piece of roofing slate and plung it into my ear (Clever little bugger) Apparently my screams brought my mum out onto the concrete garden to see blood pouring out of the plundered ear (The right one) with the piece of slate sticking out at right angles, waving hello to mum!
Obviously I can’t remember much about it, it’s just a hazy memory, but mum scooped me up and ran with me dangling under her arm to the hospital. Luckily, we lived a 30 second walk from the town centre, with the hospital a 2 minute walk on the edge of the town, or a 2 minute run.
Anyway, my early attempt at trying to be David Blaine resulted in 2 trips to the hospital every year for a 3 day stay so they could perform a minor operation to enable me to stave off deafness. My yearly trips went on for 12 years until I was 16. By then I was sick and tired of going, so I discharged myself.
So, throughout all of those early years, my mum was advised to keep my right ear as dry as possible (No water) in order to prevent premature deafness. Because of the surgeon’s orders, mum took it quite literally and stopped me from learning to swim out of school, and in school. (You know what’s coming don’t you!)
Of course, the school teachers went along with my mum’s wishes, but at the very first opportunity of going with my mates out of school, I took it. My friends assured me that I would love it, they had got hold of a spare pair of swim shorts and that they would make sure I was safe. (It was a lieeeeeee)
I was having a great time walking around the shallow part of the pool, at last I was joining In with the lads, splashing and jumping around. Then I became a little bit too cocky and decided to walk towards them as they swam off towards the deeper water. I missed my footing, slipped and went under. With my eyes closed, I panicked and started swallowing water. Then I felt my little boy frame being lifted out of the water by a life guard, who placed me gently on dry land by the side of the pool. My friends were having such a good time they had been oblivious to my ‘Near death’ experience. They swam over, made sure I was ok then tried to talk me back into the pool. I was having non of it. From that day, my fear of deep water haunted me.
It wasn’t until I was 39 that I allowed myself to face my fear. My best friend Stuart (Shuffle and click) convinced me that he could teach me how to relax in the water and eventually learn to swim.
So, I placed my 6 foot 3, 19 stone frame into his capable hands and reluctantly trusted him. I walked into the shallow end and felt very silly and self-conscious, I mean, a big lump like me, wading into the shallow end at 30 years old!! To my surprise, the lifeguards didn’t gawp at me like I expected. They watched me intently as I struggled to doggy paddle across the width of the pool, stopping a few times so I could stand up (Waist high!) just to reassure myself I could still touch the bottom! Silly I know, but those nervous feelings took a while to defeat. But I slowly became more confident and better, eventually (After 3 months) able to swim a width without stopping and at a fair old rate of knots.
The day came when, after encouragement from Stuart, I decided to try and swim a length! I was breathing very deeply, becoming out of breath even though Stu was talking to me, trying to calm me down when the senior lifeguard walked by, knelt down beside me and said, very calmly “You’re ready”. I nodded and felt better when he told me he would walk along the side of the pool, holding a pole just in front of me in case I wanted to stop and needed something to grab hold of.
I walked to the shallow end and pushed off. Stuart swam beside me, allowing me enough room for my wide stroke as I kept my eyes on the pole just in front of me. I swam the whole length without faltering and reached the end of the pool quicker than I expected. I had actually swam a length, half of it in deep water! I could do it and I felt amazing! The lifeguard put his thumb up, smiled and asked me if I needed the pole on the swim back. I shook my head, told him I would be ok and set off for the return leg with Stu swimming just behind me.
After a few weeks of building up to swim 10 then 12 then 20 lengths, two or three times a week, we decided to try for a mile and we did it, swimming an extra couple of lengths to make sure we had done it. Swimming that mile happened just before my 40th birthday. I was elated and a little bit proud of myself and proud of Stuart for helping me conquer my fear.
I don’t swim much anymore, mainly because Stuart isn’t in the best of health and I never seem to have much free time, but I still find it surprising that I actually learnt to swim.