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BROWN: The swimming lesson turns out to be a lesson in life

• Apr 24, 2018 at 3:00 PM

A rite of passage for some kids in Michigan is summer swimming lessons. But, during my first attempt at Wealthy Pool in East Grand Rapids at age 4, I couldn’t touch the bottom. It felt almost like being sent into space with no tether, and I held onto the ledge the entire time.

On a June morning the next year, just as the weather begins turning warmer, my friend Wendy and I walk across the path to our friend Julie’s house for swim lessons. Chattering as we walk through the cool, green grass with the rhythmic sound of sprinklers in the background, we conclude we do not like swimming lessons.

The water is cold. We can’t touch the bottom of the pool. The other kids splash too much. We are firm in our decision.

Julie’s house is a cool California ranch with a kidney-shaped pool. We arrive for our private lesson with her 16-year-old brother, Doug. Like any great salesman, he carefully addresses each of our concerns.

Together, we stand on the first step and gradually move down to the second step as he talks to us, smiling. “It’s not so bad — is it, girls?”

We could touch the bottom. Taller and stronger than the year before, we had the confidence of worldly 5-year-olds.

Curly haired, athletic and fun loving, Doug had us swimming, jumping and diving by the end of the week.

Swimming was fun. We were about 40 minutes away from the Big Lake, so on hot days walking over to Julie’s pool with our mothers was a great way to cool off.

Eventually, our younger siblings all made their way to Julie’s pool for lessons. Flip-flops, brightly colored towels and clear blue water.

At the end of junior high, I decided I needed a sport. After a careful assessment, I determined the only sport I might be able to do would be swimming. So, I joined a summer program and tried to get up to speed before school started in the fall.

I wasn’t very fast. In fact, I felt like I was sinking almost every day.

Once the school year started, the coach yelled at me a lot. Put your head down. Reach. Pull. Kick. Go. Go. Elbows up.

Waterlogged, exhausted and grumpy, I kept waking up every day, going to class and then the practices.

But I didn’t give up, and it started getting easier. Sometimes she even smiled at me. I began looking forward to practice.

During this time, I wasn’t doing well in algebra and getting yelled at about binomials every day. You can’t use the “I’m right brained” excuse when you’re 15. They make you learn that stuff.

So, my parents got me a tutor, and he explained it with funny examples. Suddenly it made sense. I got a B. Things were starting to turn.

Swimming and other endurance sports are great for building the confidence needed for getting through challenging times. They show you that, if you keep going, you’ll make it. You’ll be stronger.

When my son was little, he watched me swim laps at various pools. He was a Lakeshore kid and grew up by the water. One day in high school, he announced he had joined Spring Lake High School’s swim team. He picked it up fast, almost like it was natural.

I spent the next few years at swim meets cheering him on while my boyfriend, who is a photographer, took pictures of him in action. His grades were up, and he made a lot of new friends from swimming.

Now I swim laps at the Spring Lake Aquatic Center and cheer my niece on at her meets in East Grand Rapids. The circle of swimming goes on.

— By Carrie Brown, Tribune community columnist. Brown is a freelance communications professional and writer who lives in Spring Lake. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she won the Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry.

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