"If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you." -- Bruce Lee
When I was 8 years old I committed a no-no that almost cost my life. It happened while my family was vacationing at Gilroy Hot Springs some 70 miles south of our home in Oakland.
The incident remains fixed in my mind. I crept out of bed at the crack of dawn and headed for the swimming pool while my parents and brothers slept soundly.
It was what the older kids had been doing the previous day that prompted me to venture out on my own. I observed them folding inner tubes in half and riding them like horses in the pool. I wanted to try it but never got the chance.
With no one around, I had my pick of inner tubes and the entire pool to myself. I selected my tube, folded it in half and mounted it -- just like the older kids.
Before long my makeshift horse and I were in the deep end of the pool. And then it happened. The tube flung out from under me and I was tossed over ... down to the bottom of the pool. And me not knowing how to swim or tread water!
Contrary to popular belief, I didn't see my life flash before me. I guess I was too busy scrambling up for air to notice. Fortunately, the tube -- like a reliable steed -- had not drifted very far as I was able to grab onto it and make my way to safety.
It took many years to get over my fear of drowning. Even now I have trepidations about venturing
My children, on the other hand, are competent swimmers, thanks to my wife who takes to water naturally.
I was relieved when I heard my daughter and son-in-law enrolled their son, William, in a six-week program for beginners last fall. Although the classes were only one hour a week, William was able to immerse his face by the second session and was swimming at the end of the course.
William's parents signed him up in their neighborhood swim club's program early this year, and within a short time he was able to execute the medley of swim strokes sufficiently to compete in community meets with other boys his own age.
For readers who've never attended a community swim meet, it is quite an enjoyable experience. Youngsters ranging from 6 (and possibly younger) through the mid-teens compete. Swim meets can last an entire day starting at 9 a.m. and parents come well prepared for those occasions.
One incident happened on the day my wife and I attended a meet that was especially touching. As the 6-year-olds were preparing to swim, a young lady entered the pool. Positioning herself in front of one of the children, she began swimming backward as the other kids swam around her.
It was obvious as the child entered the pool that he was disabled and had difficulty extending his arms to stay afloat. At times while he swam his struggling was unbearable to watch but he managed somehow to move ahead, and the young lady made no attempt to impede his progress. The child eventually swam the length of the pool on his own and was rewarded with a resounding applause despite coming in last and taking more than twice the time to finish.
Although ribbons are awarded to winners, most kids swim to hone their techniques and better their times, which goes to show that winning isn't everything. And after all, isn't it just as important to finish the race?
It's too bad all sports aren't patterned like community swim meets!
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.