When I was a kid, it was important to my mom and dad that we learn how to swim. Neither of them know how to swim, though they see the value in knowing what to do if you happen to find yourself in say, the ocean.
We took classes at a local high school We were taught by teenage boys from the swim team who needed either service hours or something to do all summer. They weren't the greatest swim coaches in Chicago. I specifically remember one class that began with a "thumbs up" check of all the kids in our group; they wanted to see who had John Candy's thumbs up.
I was one of the older kids in our group, so I was awkward and uncomfortable in my swim suit around all the small, chubby kids. We also had to wear swim caps which, at home in my bedroom mirror, made me feel like a synchronized Olympic champ. Out in public, I felt like a walking penis.
There's another piece to the puzzle, for you.
Swimming with all those smaller, younger kids made me feel so awkward. I was "the tall one" for one of the last times in my life. I towered over some of these kids. Combine that with a fear of deep water and it wasn't hard to spot me standing on the sidelines.
I watched the smaller kids enviously. I wanted to run and jump into the water. I didn't want to be afraid. I wanted to make my parents proud of me.
One day at the end of the summer, the let us climb up to the tall diving board and do pencil dives into the water. A swim coach was there to catch us if we freaked out on the way down. Everyone was jumping, even my sister. From my position in the pool, it didn't look that high up. I wanted to give it a shot and see what the big deal was.
When I got to the top, I froze. I was petrified. Everything looked so small and I couldn't walk to the end of the diving board. My knees locked and I couldn't go forward. I wanted to back down, crawl down the ladder and run home. I couldn't back down. There were angry kids on every rung from the top on down and they weren't going to lose their spot in line for the likes of me.
I took a deep breath, locked my knees together, and dove off the end of the diving board. It wasn't quite so traumatic as I had imagined.