Happy Father’s Day – Thanks for the Swimming Lesson

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, swimming saved my life. After a bad bike IMG_2175_copycrash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained. But magically, weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Gradually, it seemed like my savior; swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.swimming at SL

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg, I repeated the mantra he ingrained, “Never give up.”

Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

IMG_0999_copyAs a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. IMG_1693_copyNow as an adult I swim in bliss from one side of the lake to the other. Dad, like a lifeguard, sits on the dock, observing each stroke as if he could save me should a boat comes crashing into my path, or a leg cramp pull me under.

We have come full circle. We both know there is no way that my 83-year-old father could rescue me especially when I am swimming 150 feet from shore at the far end of the lake. But I feel safer, just knowing he is there, watching over me with his benevolent eyes.

Posted in education, family, health, humor, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

39 Comments

  1. Debbie, I can’t imagine being afraid of water especially since I spend so much therapy time in it, but of course I grew up on a lake at least in the summers. Are you still able to play tennis and be active or have your joints given out like mine?

  2. Kathy, your comments are always so lovely. I know that you can relate to this piece for your dad was your beloved hero, too. I know you must miss him every day, but you can see his reflection in the twinkle of your eyes.

  3. Oh lucky you having such a wonderful dad who helped you find your body courage at such a young age, and how wonderful that this became your eventual body salvation! I remember many long summers at the La Chat pool with you swimming your lengths and me trying to keep up with those long limbs 🙂 The biggest gift my English teacher dad gave me was a love of words. No matter what kind of relationship we have with our dads, I believe there is always something we can thank them for… Hugs to you fellow water lady xxx

    • Your dad sure did give you a love of words and books, too, I imagine. Oh Rach, I remember how fun it was swimming those laps together at school. The entire place has changed so much since you were there – bigger campus & more students sharing the same amount of space in lil’Switzerland. You must love the wide open spaces of Down Under.

      • You’re right, a real love of books – half our shipment was books! 🙂 I can’t imagine La Chat being even more cramped. I remember teaching there with 800 kids only and no La Ferme car park or new primary school. We used to walk across the green to work in the sports hall from La Ferme. Those were the days… Australia’s wide open spaces do still make me catch my breath that’s for sure 😉 xx

        • Oh Rach you truly are my soul sister…you shipped your books along with you. Change marches on, now they are talking about tearing down your old homestead Le Ferme. All the old timers are upset..there goes a piece of our history. The traffic to & from campus is a nightmare, the only thing worse is the traffic in the halls of the old building.

          • Hehe, sisters in book crime 😉 I was there at La Chat when they ripped the old art building down to make the new cafeteria and library. They always get their way in the name of progress… End of an era if la Ferme goes 🙁 xx

  4. Beautiful story–I was also gifted with swimming as a young child and often say it was the best thing my parents did for me! I also loved your pictures. I need to swim in a lake this summer!

    • Thanks for stopping by Meg. So glad to we connected on the boulevard. I look forward to following Wellness Feels Good. And I can’t wait to begin my summer wellness program by jumping into my beloved lake soon.

    • Peg, we were both blessed with special fathers, who were not only a great influence to us, but also to all those athletes and students they worked with during their careers at SHS. I know you miss your dad everyday, especially today, so I am sending extra special hugs. Yockway.

  5. Such a loving tribute to your dad, Pat — and might I add how blessed you are to still have him around?!! Daddy would have taught me how to swim, but I inherited my mom’s fear of the water gene. Nevertheless, he insisted we kids take Red Cross lessons. I’m still not happy being in all that water, but there’s some comfort in knowing how to save myself, I guess! I’m glad you at least have been able to make water a part of your life, rather than fighting it!!

    • Debbie, I can’t imagine being afraid of water especially since I spend so much therapy time in it, but of course I grew up on a lake at least in the summers. Are you still able to play tennis and be active or have your joints given out like mine?

    • You are right, Clara. I never needed Batman or Superman, I had my own superhero. Hope you are enjoying the blessings of family and come back to the page feeling inspired and renewed.

  6. What a beautiful story, Pat. You have defined hero with this touching tribute to your father. Your stories always bring tears to my eyes,but, in this case, they are deep, healing , grateful tears for I can connect to the love and admiration of a hero-father. Your way with words is truly a precious gift, my friend. 🙂

    • Kathy, your comments are always so lovely. I know that you can relate to this piece for your dad was your beloved hero, too. I know you must miss him every day, but you can see his reflection in the twinkle of your eyes.

  7. Sis,
    Love You! Love Dad! Love this blog! Looking forward to swimming side by side with you at Summit Lake while Dad watches over us! 🙂

  8. Sis,
    Love You! Love Dad! Love this blog! Looking forward to swimming side by side with you at Summit Lake while Dad watches over us! 🙂

  9. How blessed we have all been to learn so many life lessons from Dad. And how blessed we are to be able to share another summer together at our beloved Summit Lake. Can’t wait for family time!

    • Yes, sis, each day with family is a gift and we are so lucky that our parents are still with us. Bring it on, summer! Can’t wait to see you.

  10. Beautiful, Pat. I loved this. My dad also taught me how to swim and every Labor Day we would have a race to see who could swim the fastest (I never won). I also found water to be my salvation when I had a bad back problem a few years ago. The only time it didn’t hurt was when I was in the water, so I spent a lot of time there.

    • I can so relate to this, Helene. I suffer from chronic back pain due to one too many accidents on the court and off it. The water is a sublime pain killer. I still remember the day I finally beat my dad in that swim race!

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