“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost,
to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt 

As promised, here’s another of my “Og” stories, one of those unique, once in a lifetime experiences that contribute to my being the unique person that I am today . . .

Australia, late 1940’s – Our family lived in this amazing land for about three years due to my father having to do some work there when I was 7 through 10 years of age, a really great time to explore whatever world I found myself in, and Australia is just such a place where a young boy can really have some neat life adventures.  Adventures like raising silk worms, or living across the street from a family who had two pet kangaroos in their backyard.

But the part of that adventure I want to share here is about swimming, or better described as learning how to swim.  Big deal you say?  Doesn’t every young boy learn how to swim?  Well, certainly most do, but in my case living in Australia made that common experience unique.  I was taught how to swim by a native of Australia, an aborigine, and that is my only claim to fame when many years later, post heart transplant, I found myself competing, well better described as “participating” since I certainly wasn’t being very competitive, in the US Transplant Games.

Jim Swimming at '98 Games (from front page of USA Today)

Jim Swimming at '98 Games (from front page of USA Today)

But wait, that’s another story that you can find in my book, a whole chapter of Games’ experiences.

Those youthful swim lessons were given in a municipal pool which was within sight of Botany Bay with sharks that often came into the shallows where people, my dad and I included, were swimming.  One early morning, as they were refilling that huge pool from a nightly cleaning, water pouring in from a water pipe in the deep end, I ignored common sense, remember I was only 7 or 8 years old, and went into the pool as it was still  being filled.  I was in the middle depth, slightly deeper than my height.  The water pouring in at that deep end created a current – sort of a huge whirlpool effect – that flowed from the shallow end down to that deep end with the waterfall of rushing water directly in my swim path as I found myself being swept by that current towards it.  Lacking training that would tell you to swim across the current and into the still center of that huge pool, I tried in vain to swim against it, loosing to the water, fear gripping me as I imagined being pulled under that waterfall in the depths ahead.

I don’t recall if I finally yelled out for help but help arrived when the instructor jumped in (he could stand us where I was over my head there) and rescued me.  Lesson learned.  None the less for the experience, I don’t think it had any lasting negative effects on that young boy.  Life is very resilient at that age, I guess.  It wouldn’t be the last “almost drowning” experience as I found myself in similar circumstances many years later, trying to swim alone in a rocky ocean pool down in the beautiful Bahamas.  As an adult, maybe I was about 40 then, I had walked the resort beach and after exploring well beyond the populated ocean front, decided to take a short cut back by swimming off a rocky jetty around the point.  Once in the pool with waves (gentle but still forceful) pushing me towards the rocky pool edge that enclosed 3/4’s of that waterway, leaving an opening to the wide sea of the remaining 1/4.  I came to realize that there was no way to climb out over those rocks with waves crashing.  Panic set in.  I could swim just fine thanks to that lesson in my youth, but fear overcame reason for what seemed like much too long.

I forced myself to calm down, realizing if I didn’t this would be my final resting place, drowning off Paradise Island.  In that forced calm I faced the fact that the right thing to do was to do what seemed illogical, to swim not to the land (rocks in this case) but rather out to the open ocean, continue around the point and then back in to the beach outside this cove.  That’s what I did, and thus am here many years later to share this story of “almost drowning” twice.

As you will see there was yet another such story, one in which my best friend, Ray, and I, as teenagers, almost drowned in laughter when our canoe overturned.  But let me not leave you downing in my stories here.