Swim Class

Contributor: David Macpherson

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The YMCA swim class had a strict philosophy on how to teach five year olds the ancient art of swimming: laps. Swim laps of the length of the pool back and forth and you will learn to swim. This made little sense to my five year old brain. I will learn to swim by swimming? Was this how they taught fighter pilots? Surgeons? Did you just give them a scalpel and all the patients they could want and wait for brilliance to occur?

We learned kicking and the arm movements, they just didn’t teach floating. Some kids in class, like Mike Anderton, could do those laps like he was a fish. But who cared about that little know it all with the perfect posture and designer swim goggles with the prescription lenses. I wasn’t like him.

When they proclaimed it was time for laps, I went hand over hand on the edge of the pool. When I reached the end, I turned around and moved myself laboriously back. I did this every week for the entire summer. Sometimes my path was hampered by another five year old non-swimmer hand holding down the length. I didn’t learn swimming, but my upper body became inexplicably toned.

My mother dropped me off every week amongst my tears and pleas. She thought I was just being stubborn and that secretly I really loved that swim class.

One time, the swim instructor looked down at me as I scuttled slowly down the pool. She said, “You need to stop doing that. You need to let go and start swimming.” It astonished me that I, at five years of age, had a better understanding of gravity and drowning than my supposed authority figure. Maybe, I thought, I should just let go. Maybe it was better if the water just embraced me.

On the last day of class, the instructor looked down at us chattering cold as we stood in the shallow end. She said, “Its been a long summer. Some of you refuse to swim, like it’s hard. So we teachers have decided to give you some motivation.” She turned to her assistant instructor and nodded.

That’s when they released the pirahna.

They came swirling toward us from the diving area. Mike Anderton, little know it all, said, “Don’t worry fellas, I saw on Wild Kingdom that pirahna don’t eat humans, they just eat dead skin.” The swarm of hungry fish got him first. I guess the fish didn’t see that episode of Wild Kingdom. There was an explosion of red and all that remained on the surface was his prescription swim goggles and the occasional finger bone.

The piranha turned towards me and suddenly I began to swim. The crawl, the butterfly, the breast stroke. I didn’t learn to float, I was literally levitating over the water, like an underage waterlogged messiah. I was going fast enough to make an Olympic trial.

I leapt out of the pool and saw that the rest of my compatriots made it out as well. The swim instructor smiled. “See, you could swim all along. You just needed me to nudge you.” That is when me and the other five year old pushed her into the pool right where the piranha were. As we stood above and watched the water churn and the blood geyser, we shouted at her with mania and triumph, “Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!”

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