Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a lifeguarding failure story.

So in my last story, I mentioned that I’m not good at solving math problems under pressure. Want to know what else I’m not good at? Swimming pools.

I took swimming lessons as a kid, like most everyone. Every summer, I would spend a large portion of my time at an indoor pool, learning about the American Crawl and finding out how long I could hold my breath underwater.

Swimming lessons never thrilled me. I grew up just a few miles away from Lake Poinsett, so I’d much rather be spending my time playing in the sand and swimming with the fishes. My apathy towards swimming pools only increased when we got a boat: now really, WHY would I want to be in a chlorinated cement hole with there was tubing to be done?!
Would you choose a swimming pool over this?
Didn't think so.
Granted, the first few years of swimming lessons were definitely useful. You learn how to float, how to dive, how to swim from place to place. As a kid, I didn’t know what else I needed. When we started learning about the superfluous garbage like the sidestroke and the butterfly, I more or less gave up on swimming lessons. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t. I flunked a few years, and they wouldn’t let me quit until I completed all of the swimming lessons offered in Brookings. By the time I finally did pass all of the levels, I was easily the oldest kid there (just like the school bus, but that’s another story).

I don’t think my problems necessarily arose from being a bad swimmer – growing up on that lake, I’ve been swimming since before I can remember. On more than one occasion, I was the one who swam way out into the lake to rescue a runaway floatie thing. So swimming? Not the problem. It was the structure that got me. When the swimming instructors asked me to swim from one end of the pool to the other, I happily would. When they asked me to front-stroke my way there, we had a problem. I just wanted to get myself there with my own stroke (which was generally some kind of back-stroke). I didn’t like getting water up my nose, so if I could avoid putting my face in the water, I would. I’m much like a dog that way.

If the instructor insisted that I do the front-stroke or American crawl or anything that did involve putting my face in the water, I, of course, wouldn’t do it the right way. I’d briefly stick my face in the water, usually only submerging the tip of my nose and hoping the instructors didn’t notice. They always did. I never understood why it was such a big deal – sure, I understand the strokes, but why would I have to do them unless I plan on competing (which was definitely not a goal of mine)?

In any case, once I was done with swimming lessons, I was so pleased. Now I could go back to doggie-paddling and back-stroking in peace. That is, until I started my job at the church camp.

When I turned 16, I got a job at the aforementioned camp, which is located right on my neighborhood lake. During one of my very first days of work, my boss said, “Hey, how would you feel about being a lifeguard?” Before I had the chance to say no, he exclaimed, “Great! Your training starts tomorrow!”

So off to lifeguard training I went. One other girl from camp was also going to be doing the training, so we carpooled to Madison, SD – almost an hour away. I didn’t mind: getting paid to sit through three days of lifeguard classes? No problem!

As soon as I got there, I found out that it wasn’t going to be so easy. The first thing we had to do was swim ten laps in the pool. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Actually, no: turns out a “lap” is “there and back,” so you’re swimming the length of the pool twenty times.

That day, I was fairly sure that I was going to drown. We had to alternate between the front stroke and some other weird stroke that I had never done before. Both of them involved putting your face in the water. As I gasped and choked and tried to get some air into my lungs, I only succeeded in inhaling water. I did finally complete my ten laps, though, and I was indeed the last one. I’d had enough time to write out my will in my head, for crying out loud.

I have no idea why those laps were way harder for me than they were for anyone else. I’m not the most athletic person in the world, but I don’t spend my days sitting on the couch eating Big Macs, either. I don’t know if the rest of these people spent more time practicing their strokes than me, or maybe I’d forgotten to eat my Wheaties that morning. Whatever it was, I was a massive failure.

By the time I finally climbed out of the pool, I was a spluttering mess. The instructor looked at me like something that had been pulled out of the drain, but she gave me a minute to figure out how to breathe again. When I realized that I was, in fact, still alive, she announced that we were moving to part two of the swimming portion.

I gave her a blank stare. Part two? Just drown me now. Part two would involve the instructor dropping a blue brick to the bottom of the pool, and we were expected to retrieve it. That sounded much less horrible than the laps! I could DO this!

Now is probably the time to mention the fact that I have horrible eyesight. Horrible. I’ve had glasses since kindergarten, and my lenses really are as thick as Coke bottles. If I was not wearing any corrective eyewear, you could stand two feet in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to read the logo on your shirt. At the time of lifeguard training, I didn’t have contacts, so goggles were out of the question. I would have to dive blind, and the instructor knew it.

Again, not impossible. I watched where the brick landed for everybody else: the dark blue brick on the light blue bottom of the pool was easy to spot, even for my extreme myopia. When it came to be my turn, I was confident that I’d be able to save the poor brick from its watery grave.

Now, I don’t know if the swimming instructor had it out for me, or if this actually was an accident. She dropped the brick right on the giant black line painted at the bottom of the pool. 
Stupid Olympic swimming pools.
I just gawked. I had my glasses on as I watched the brick sink to the bottom, but even then, I had a hard time discerning the navy blue brick from the big black stripe. I knew I was doomed. Just the same, I gave it my best shot. I dove to the bottom three times, unable to see the brick. I just felt around, hoping that if I got close enough, I’d smack it with a limb. The only advantage I did have was my pretty impressive lung capacity – all those years of clarinet playing can pay off at the strangest times.

No matter: my efforts were in vain. The instructor told me to pack up and go home: I had flunked lifeguard training. I was crushed – mostly because it meant that I had to go back to work. Also: how was I going to get home? I had carpooled with someone who DIDN’T get kicked out of lifeguard training, after all. Luckily, there was someone else there who was from Arlington, so I was able to borrow my coworker’s car and go on home.

I stopped at home to wash the chlorine out of my hair: needless to say, my dad was surprised to see me home so early. When I explained why, he took pity on my hangdog, drowned rat self and gave me a “you can’t win ‘em all” speech before sending me back to work. My boss was also surprised to see me, but there were plenty of potatoes that needed peeling and cucumbers that needed slicing, so he didn’t mind that I was back.
I worked at that same camp for four
summers. It had its moments: like
the time I was Queen of the Cooler.
So I never became a lifeguard. It was never a goal of mine, so ultimately, I didn’t mind being sent home. Besides, now I’ve got an awesome story about how I flunked out of lifeguard school. 

No comments:

Post a Comment