By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
From the time we were small the onset of summer in June often meant the start of swimming lessons at the local pool. Technically, our local pool was actually completely across town and easily a 20-minute drive even on days with good traffic. It was part of large sports complex with an indoor pool, outdoor pool, games room, basketball courts, running track and exercise rooms.
From around the age of 4 I found myself in the pool, both with my mother and without, learning how to swim.
Though I completed my own swimming lessons around 10 or 11, I still found myself coming back year after year to watch as my brother and sister continued their lessons, often finishing up my summer reading in the time it took for them to finish up. All three of us had very different approaches to the pool.
I had a very healthy fear of the water and though I liked swimming around on my own, I didn’t exactly like being told how to swim by my instructors. However, the fact that we were given pass/fail grades for the summer session and sometimes stickers for a job well done made me actually put some effort into my lessons.
Diving was perhaps the scariest part of learning to swim. I was always short for my age and that fact coupled with the 12- to 16-foot deep end of the pool made even the so-called “short dive” terrifying. When our swim teacher asked us to climb to the top of the “tall dive,” I was petrified. Nothing seemed more horrendous than to ask children who were 8 or 9 to climb 12 feet in the air to plunge into 12 feet of water.
My mother worked with me on diving throughout that summer and eventually I got the hang of it. Of course, I still sometimes have trouble with the whole breathing underwater thing without my nose being plugged for me. Each time I tried I usually ended up with water in my lungs and sputtering all over the place. It wasn’t until I was an older teenager that I could manage swimming without holding my nose.
I would like to think I was the easiest of the three of us to teach to swim. My brother was a bit of a wild child and while he could do all the tasks his swim instructors asked of him he usually wanted to swim to the beat of his own drummer. He was the dare devil doing flips off the high board when I was still nervous about swimming into the 5-foot-deep section of the pool.
The trade off there is my brother was the one usually being yelled at by the lifeguards. Horseplay, running around the pool and splashing other people were his idea of a good time. He especially loved splashing the hair of our female relatives after they mentioned they didn’t want to get it wet in the pool.
From an early age, my sister took to water at backyard and hotel pools like a fish to water. It seemed obvious that she would love swimming lessons. While my sister did love the water, she didn’t like being told how to swim or having to do things a certain way. She was probably a mix of me and my brother with a healthy respect for the dangers of the pool and a penchant for doing what she wanted to do rather than what she was told to do. In hindsight, she is bossy enough she would probably make a good lifeguard or swim instructor herself.
When swimming lessons were over, we would beg our mom to let us spend some time in the big outdoor pool the complex also had. A day trip to the pool involved packing up pool toys, blankets, snacks and a clean change of clothes before heading to the car and driving across town. My brother usually ran off before Mom could pull out the sunscreen and, luckily for him, he always managed to get a perfect natural tan. My sister and I just turned varying shades from light pink to lobster red, so sunscreen of the highest SPF was needed before we could even think of venturing out from the shade. The globby, smelly sunscreen was worth it when we finally did get into the pool, though Mom would pull us out for generous reapplications ever so often. It was no fun when playtime was interrupted for sunscreen, but we probably complained louder about our sunburns.
To be honest, I can’t really tell you the difference between a breast stroke and a butterfly stroke. Despite my swimming lessons I have no real skills other than your basic backstroke, doggy paddle and basic laps. Of course, I can stay afloat in the pool, which I suppose is what really counts.
Still, I enjoyed those summers we spent at the pool both learning to swim and just doing our own thing in the outdoor pool. For me, the idea of a perfect summer will always include spending some time by the pool.
Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com.