When I was a kid, the public pool was the only place nearby where one could go swimming. Unless you were one of those rich kids who lived on the lake, which I wasn’t. I had to learn to swim in a large concrete communal tub with so much cholorine in the water that it burned your nose and turned any light-colored hair a weird shade of green. Kids around me were splashing around and having a wonderful time, but I secretly hated it. I was a little chubby way back then and stripping down to swim trunks was not something I wanted to do at all, much less in mixed company. And never kid company. Kids can be a bit cruel. Not that being fully clothed was a perfect solve as my pants were purchased in a size called “Husky” which I can only guess meant that I wore clothes normally reserved for Siberian dogs. Living in the suburbs left little options for things to do, so the pool was a destination for all kids in the summer months. And that’s where you would find me on several occasions on those hot summer days, whether I liked it or not.
And I really did not like it. Changing clothes in front of strangers of all ages only to hop in and take a bath with them isn’t my idea of a good time. I was certainly in the minority, as everyone else seemed to think it was the most amazing thing ever. So, I decided I would keep giving it a try until I at least learned to swim properly, which I managed to accomplish. At least, I think I learned the proper way. I didn’t sink, so I figured whatever I was doing must be working. But there was still something that I hadn’t tried. That terrifying fixture of every public pool known as the high dive. I shrugged it off initially as not something I wanted to pursue, but coaxing from the other kids turned into dares, and then the ultimate double dog dare, which no kid could simply ignore. It wasn’t just the height of the thing that scared me, it was also the fact that while learning to stay afloat, I never actually learned how to dive. And holding my breath under water still required the use of a couple pinched fingers on my nose. But I decided that I would take the plunge anyway.
I climbed the ladder to the top of the high dive while the other kids, who I can’t really remember well and don’t know if I even thought of them as friends, watched me. I stepped out onto the blue plank with all the same resolute expression that I imagine people had when being driven off a ship by pirates. Without thinking too much about it, I clinched my fingers onto my nose and sort of fell feet first into the water. It was not a dive of any sort, and I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing it to satisfy a dare from those kids, I was doing it simply as a dare to myself. As silly as it sounds, I often still use this tactic today. If I’m scared of trying something new, I just double dog dare myself to do it. It has varying degrees of success as I can usually scare myself pretty well out of doing new things. But, in the end, I’m always happier for having tried something new rather than wondering what might have been. And though I may no longer be that chubby kid on the high dive, each new challenge today, though sometimes tough, is just like those days when I was learning to swim.