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About A Week: Taking The Plunge

Peter Hinchliffe was in his fifties when he finally plucked up enough courage to take the plunge.

For most of my life I have been unable to swim. I convinced myself that I was stone-limbed, doomed to sink to the bottom of the pool.

Not until I was 53 did I finally shackle that enemy, Cowardice, he who for so many years made me shy away from deep water. Nowadays I splash around in the deepest of the deep ends, happy as a cat basking in a patch of sunlight.

I was taking a stroll one lunchtime when I wandered into the local Sports Centre to inquire about adult swimming classes. “There’s a course starting in two weeks,’’ said the lady behind the glass partition. “There are only a few places left on it.’’

Before the “Yellow Enemy’’ could propel me backwards through the door, I had signed up and handed over cash.

Then for 14 days I worried and worried, convinced that I had volunteered to make a public fool of myself.

When I eventually descended the broad steps into the children’s pool at the Sports Centre, I was feverishly trying to think of an excuse to dash for the changing room, a towel, then freedom. Never to go near water again.

Quick glance to right and left at the other “victims’’ on the course. Eight or nine women. Three or four men. All the men looking as desperate as I felt.

The voice of the swimming instructor boomed forth.

“Turn over. Face down towards the steps. Legs straight out behind you. Weight on your hands. Now on your finger tips. Push gently. There - you’re floating.’’

We were! Just like that! Nothing to this swimming lark. Why be afraid.

“Next, wade the length of the pool, and back. Convince yourself that the water is hallow enough to stand up in.

“You will soon realise,’’ said the instructor, “that the hardest thing is to get under-water, not float or swim on the surface.’’

“Says you,’’ thought I.

Thirty minutes later, I was convinced. The human body floats as naturally as cork.

After 10 lessons I was swimming breast stroke, back stroke and crawl.

I was comfortable in the water. Happy to lie on my back, no longer tormented by visions of drowning.

I wouldn’t claim to swim well. When I do the breast stroke I look like a frog with a water-limp. I swim slowly. But I can swim non-stop for an hour, and more.

A few weeks ago I was in a hotel swimming pool in Chiang Mai, Thailand, accompanied by my step-grandson, Kew.

Kew was using a large white lifebelt, splashing from side to side in the shallow end. The splashing soon became a well-timed breast stroke.

I swam a length. Returned to the shallow end. Started a second length. And there was Kew, still using the belt, swimming alongside me.

Ten minutes later, Kew cast aside the belt to swim a confident breadth.

One beaming, happy boy.

What fun!

How glad I am that I leaned to swim.


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