Prior to getting into the water the first class, Ken said he’d watched the video on the website and saw the class in Sarasota line up at the side of the pool and jump in.
“Are we going to have to do that?” he asked.
“You don’t have to do anything.”
“Good,” he said. “Scared me to death.”
In the water in the first class he struggled to come out of a front float, flailing his arms as if in a suffocating web, trying to wrench free. Frustration approached coronary level. I urged him to slow down, repeating my teaching mantra, “The slower you go, the faster you make progress.” His look was, easy for you to say.
The next morning I got an email: he was “frustrated and disappointed” about his lack of progress, “embarrassed and even ashamed would not be exaggerations.” He “obsessed about the class all last evening, tossing and turning while attempting to sleep,” and expressed doubts about coming back for the next session.
I wrote back and said that nothing happened in the pool to warrant embarrassment or shame, that it seemed to me his greatest fear was what his mind would do to himself if he failed in this attempt to conquer his fear of water.
He returned for the next session, and with some of the pressure relieved, learned to float comfortably. He still had trouble standing, but frustration was mitigated by progress elsewhere.
Last Sunday, our sixth of eight classes, some of the more advanced students said they wanted to jump into the deep end. They had been practicing in the deep end and I had no concerns about their capabilities. One by one they climbed the ladder and stood, toes draped over the edge, before taking the leap. And then there was Ken, standing on the edge. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Pinch your nose. Take a giant step. Don’t do another thing. Let the water bring you back up.”
He plunged all the way to the bottom. A flurry of bubbles obscured him. I swam down ready to help but he waited, just as he was instructed, and buoyancy took over and he rose up and up and his head broke the surface. He was facing toward the middle of the pool so I grabbed his elbow and turned him around to the wall.
“How was that?”
“Didn’t scare me a bit.”
“You jumped in. The very thing you were worried about the first day.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but I’m not so sure I could have turned myself around.”
“We’ll get to that.”