Diving for my diploma

“Bend forward. Head between your outstretched arms. Hands pointed. Push off. GO!”

Not so fast.

I was 18, shivering in a saggy red tank suit and a dimpled rubber swimming cap, staring into the aqua water of the college’s indoor pool. Miss Gorton, our middle-aged phys ed teacher, waited stolidly on the deck.

I – reluctant dog-paddler who’d twice flunked swim lessons as a kid – had to dive into the deep end. I was terrified.

Wherefore this torture? In 1970, all students at my college had to pass a swim test to graduate. After the Titanic sank in 1912, colleges across the country decided that students should learn to swim. How this might have helped passengers survive a sinking ocean liner in frigid water wasn’t clear to me. Yet here I was, nearly 60 years after the event, trying to prove I could survive in a pool.

I had already cleared other mandated aquatic hurdles – survival float, basic strokes, swimming one pool length. For the grand finale, I had to execute a passable dive. (Did I mention I hate putting my head underwater?) I stood, panicking, at the edge of the pool. My mind screamed “No no no no no.”

“DIVE!” shouted Miss Gorton, clearly out of patience. I leaped in headfirst with a messy splash, legs akimbo, eyes closed. Chlorinated water pushed against my nostrils. I had no idea how deep I was or even which way was up. HELP. Was I drowning? Somehow I managed to thrash to the surface.

“Not bad, Anne,” Miss Gorton said. “Let’s try again.”

I clambered onto the pool deck and considered the deep end, where “12 FT” was painted above the water line. Unh-uh. Not gonna happen. Sorry, Miss Gorton. I’m done.

The following semester, our faculty repealed the swim requirement. No more diving for diplomas! My path to graduation was clear.

So big deal – I failed the swimming test and my first dive was my last. Later I joined the women’s hockey team and had the time of my life banging around a rink on skates. Ice: Now that’s my kind of water.



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