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Some of the earliest memories of my childhood are swimming lessons. I’m pretty sure my parents forced me through swimming lessons at least three times before I could swim without floaties. My older brother learned to jump off the deep end and swim to the bottom of the pool by age two, so in comparison, I really sucked.
I sat on the step of Mrs. Burlage’s pool crying my eyes out because water went all up my nose and there was no way I would do that again. And by that, I mean swim all the way across the pool with a dark blue kickboard. Bribes of popsicles and ice cream couldn’t make me budge. Later in life, I’d be sitting in World History in high school before realizing the same Ms. Burlage grading my tests had a pool at home that sourced my nightmares.
Most of my childhood seems to be marked with stories of me sitting under the umbrella on the beach instead of splashing in the waves. Eventually that grew into sitting in the waves, but never going deep enough where I couldn’t see my feet safely touching the ground.
A few weeks ago, I took the eight year old girl I nanny to the pool. The club pool in her neighborhood is nine feet deep in one petrifying area.
She kept saying, “Jump in with me! Jump in with me!”
I simply said, “But what if a shark gets me?”
But then I realized I actually meant it.
Sharks, alligators, stingrays, jellyfish—somewhere in the recess of my mind, I feared they would latch onto me once I submerged myself in the clear, open water.
I didn’t want to jump in the deep end because I was afraid something would pull me down.
There’s always something. Something that locks your feet to the ground and keeps you from leaping forward.
Today, I swam ten laps in a pool here in Las Vegas. I’m still not a strong swimmer, haunted by the memory of water shooting up my nose every time I attempted to learn diving. But Heath convinced me I could do it.
Despite the fact that I know I can swim, sometimes in the middle of a lap, I’d stop and brush my toes against the bottom of the pool, not to check for sharks, but to see how much farther I needed to go if I wanted to finish.
Swimming laps isn’t a big deal, but it felt like it to me. It felt like all of the fear of water, of jumping in, of sharks and drowning and chlorine burning my eyes all disappeared. Fears so deeply seeded in me that I didn’t know the hold they had on me until I took action against them.
I don’t know what these fears look like for you, but for me it meant swimming nine more laps after I swallowed water and my arms were tired. You have to just keep swimming, like Dory taught us.
Who knows, maybe this weekend I’ll be swimming in the Pacific Ocean.