ERNA: Fear Of Swimming

BE AFRAID, BUT DO IT ANYWAY

Fear Of Swimming

By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS • Special to www.AllOTEGO.com

Swimming. I was a kid who wanted to learn to swim.

It really started when I won a week at Bible camp by reciting enough verses. Just being there was scary enough. I was afraid to sleep in my bunk at night. Homesick.

Had all of the wrong clothes. All of the other kids had fancy clothes. My bathing suit was the only store bought thing I had and it didn’t fit. It was a hand-me-down from our neighbor.

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.


My week at camp seemed to get worse, scarier every day. After our morning calisthenics, we put on our bathing suits, huddled in our towels for the frigid march to the lake.

Most everyone could swim to the dock. Not me. I came from a family of non-swimmers. Mom was too scared to put her face in water.

Watching me shiver, a cabin mate decided to push me in — way over my head.

I sputtered, swallowed water till the guard pulled me out.
I was afraid, but I wanted to swim.

Never again – no more being trapped in dark terror, I said to myself. But it did happen again at friends’ ponds.

More than one time I climbed onto rafts with my friends. They jumped off. I fell into murky, reedy water way over my head. Not sure why I didn’t drown.

So when I heard I could take swimming lessons at a summer school program, I put on another ugly swimsuit.

Worse still, since I was 11 and embarrassed. Chubby size 16 that year. Wearing a hand-me down. Budding breasts made that clingy suit even worse. But I walked a mile from my house every day.

Joined the others at the local swimming hole in the creek just outside the village. Finally, I thought.

But it wasn’t to be. A gangly man and a chubby woman were in charge. They got us in the creek. Had us put our faces in the water. Stretch out on our stomachs in the dead man’s float. But then, a few seconds later, they shouted “buddy up.” I became an expert at buddying up. Could lie on my stomach in water without touching. After a whole summer.

I still wanted to learn to swim, though.

In Wellington, they had a pool. I joined. The water smelled like Clorox and was hot. I tried to do it. Still, after a year all I could do was the dead man’s float. Had buddying up in my kit bag. Just in case.

Before I could learn to swim I moved. First to my new TV/radio job. Then six months across the Pacific, America and finally London.
In London, after a lot of “temping,” I got a permanent job. On my way to work I passed the Drury Lane baths (swimming pool) every day.

After my near-drownings, I was terrified of water over my head. But I knew I could do it. Day after day I practiced widths at the shallow end. First the dead man’s float; then I added kicking.

Next I tried the doggy paddle. Widths. But I got really good at widths and thought: I should move on to lengths.

The first time was a disaster. I doggy paddled and paddled but suddenly the bottom of pool fell away. No way I could touch it. Or doggy paddle over the terrifying water. Shaking inside, struggling to float, kick, somehow made it back.

Days, weeks, months passed until I could make it to the far end.

The saga continued. I beat my fear. Swam an hour every day for years.

At a dinner party years later, a friend asked about how I learned to swim. I got to the buddying up, dead man’s float part.

Suddenly, my husband asked if the teacher was really tall and wore glasses?

It was my husband. First time we met.

Years later I learned that without knowing it when we first met — he taught me what I needed to know to beat my fear. Taught me how to do it.


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