Sink or Swim
By Nichole Hall
Nichole Hall is a junior English major and is pursuing a minor in Professional Writing. Sink or Swim was written as an assignment in her Creative Non-Fiction class taught by Dr. Hemmeter. She is currently interested in a few potential career paths once she graduates from Arcadia University. Her possible career goals include travel writing, speech writing, journalism, and being an editor for a local newspaper or magazine.
This piece was written as part of my creative nonfiction class, and the assignment was to write about learning how to do something. The piece explains my struggles and challenges of learning how to swim when I was in third grade, and finally understanding the basics of swimming.
Goosebumps cover my body as I ease myself into the cold, reflecting, blue water. (I am) whining like a baby that it’s not warm and I want to leave. My pool teacher in a one-piece bathing suit wades over to me at the shallow end of the pool and yells over the loudness of the other kids that are splashing each other.
“ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS HOLD YOUR BREATH AND THEN DO IT UNDERWATER!”
“I don’t know to hold my breath, though….”
“LIKE THIS!” Out of nowhere, her hand pushes my head down into the water—chlorine rushes in my mouth and nose—I start spazzing, freaking out, and come up for air, coughing and stuttering, as my teacher gives me a look of pity.
This was the first time I tried to hold my breath underwater. And the last time she ever taught me how to swim.
I had trouble learning how to swim when I was in elementary school; it seemed like every 6 to 8 year old knew how to swim except me. I wasn’t afraid of water; I liked playing in the pool, as long as my head wasn’t completely submerged.
I remember at 6 years old my mother signed me up for swimming lessons, which had failed. She over prepared me for swimming by making me wear water shoes, which I learned drags you down instead of helping you swim. From 6 to 8 years old, my swimming instructors couldn’t teach me how to swim. Lying on my back floating, I failed because I was afraid water would go up my nose if I sunk; swimming in freestyle I failed because I didn’t want to get my feet off the ground and kick my legs; I just wanted to wade. And of course, holding my breath underwater was not an option because I didn’t even know how to hold my breath without holding my nose. However, all of these challenges weirdly didn’t discourage me from swimming in the pool; I just wanted to swim my way. It wasn’t until I lived in the Middle East that I learned how to swim for the first time.
My dad’s U.S. State Department job made us relocate to Muscat, Oman for two years when I was 8. I went to TAISM, or to elaborate, The American International School of Muscat. Gym class at my elementary school required everyone to take swimming lessons in the outside pool. During our first swimming lesson, I was isolated from the rest of my fourth grade class because I didn’t know how to swim; my heart sank as I watched my classmates swim over to the deep end while a boy and I stayed in the shallow end of the pool. Mr. Carvallo, one of the swimming instructors, practiced with the rest of the class while Ms. Grace tried to teach me and the boy the basics of swimming during our half-hour time period. We copied her alternating arm motions in the pool standing up, and then she taught us how to tread water. My mouth stretched into a grin as my arms made circular motions in the water and my legs kicked rapidly back and forth—I was learning how to tread in place with my feet off the ground for the first time!
After treading for about 2 minutes, Ms. Grace left the pool to get a towel from the locker room, and told us to keep practicing treading. I didn’t want to keep treading, though—I was feeling overly confident that I could do anything now that I learned how to tread water. I looked at the length of the shallow pool, about 20 feet long, and wanted to get to the other side. I stood up straight and stared at the rhythmically lapping blue water, taunting me, inviting me, daring me to get across to the other side.
My eyes narrowed at the pool’s ledge 20 feet from me, and I began to tread—but I was moving forward when I was treading. My arms broke away from their circular motion at my sides and began slowly alternating back and forth in front of me—my legs started to kick back and forth in the pool, splashing loudly, and at that point my heart swelled up and my mouth seemed to be locked in a huge opened mouth smile as I was nearing the ledge—I was doggie paddling!
I touched the ledge with an opened mouth clown smile plastered on my face. I turned around to where I originally was and saw Ms. Grace back in the pool, smiling at me. I doggie paddled back to her, my face about to snap in two if I was to beam any harder.
“Great job, Nichole!” she said, looking at me with amazement. “That was great! Now we’re going to learn one more thing before class is over—blowing bubbles. Have you ever done that before?”
Both the boy and I shook our heads.
“Ok, it’s really easy. You’re going to put your head in the water and just blow like you would blow your nose. You’re going to do this for about 10 seconds, and you can come up for air if you need to.”
Weirdly enough, I wasn’t afraid to blow bubbles in the water, yet my heart was pounding at double the speed. I stared down at the blue water once again. I wasn’t feeling as confident here, but I was willing to try it.
Taking a deep breath, I plunged into the warm water and blew my nose—hard. Tons of bubbles erupted from my nose, and it was relieving to finally not hold my nose under the water. I came up for air shortly after the bubbles came out because I was so shocked. Ms. Grace hugged me, praising me on learning the basics of swimming. At this point, class ended and I went to the locker room, smiling to myself and lost in my own thoughts as I got my dry clothes. From this great day onward, Ms. Grace gave me private swimming lessons herself on Thursdays, while I also practiced swimming in class three times a week. I eventually learned how to swim freestyle, float, swim backwards, and do the butterfly, all thanks to Ms. Grace. Who knew it only had to take me living halfway across the world to learn how to swim?