Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fear and Swimming

Did my 20 laps well before the Sunday madness began at our local pool. Only one child yet, a sturdy looking 7 year-old, repeatedly mimicking dives from the poolside, but still landing feet-first. Struggling to swim the 10 feet to the ladder, often clutching the wall for moral support.

The coach, a slim 22-year old, shouted encouragement while slouched in a plastic chair. The mother, who couldn't be more than 25, was off in the far corner, earnestly talking on the cell phone.

I tested out my butterfly stroke, as fast as I can do at this age, then stroked back to the boy. He jumped in again, struggled with his own fear, and made it to the ladder. "You are swimming so well", I told him, and asked him his name. Pulkit was stuck in a strange place, between his own desire to swim and his fear. "Jump again, and swim to me."

First he gasped, then he grasped, his arms rigid with the tension of his own fear. "Hold my hands, and kick." His eyes were masked by yellow-tinted swimming goggles, but his neck and head were taut with tension, as I kicked backwards to the shallow end of the pool. His mother sort of smiled, but didn't move as we approached her. "Wow! Look how much you've swum," I told him. He couldn't raise a smile, but his arms were less tense.

"Want to swim back?" He nodded. I kicked off, and noticed that the coach was slouching a bit less. After I had parked him at the end of the pool, I struck off for another fast lap, but when I returned, Pulkit was clearly waiting for me. I led him to his Mum's end again. This time she was pacing up and down, earnestly talking in to her phone. "When you kick, try not to bend your knees". I turned to the wall to show Pulkit how he kicked. He wanted to mimic me immediately. "No, no - that's not how you should kick. This is how you should kick - legs extended".

Earnestly, he turned to the wall, and tried to mimic me. So far he had not uttered a word, nor smiled once. I led him back to the coach's end. "Now swim across the pool." Pulit froze. "OK, Swim up to me", and I positioned myself 10 feet from him. He gasped, wiggled his legs and feet, and made it to me. "Now to the end" - another 15 feet across the breadth of the pool. Within 5 feet, he was turning to the wall. "No, no! Come to me" I said forcefully. He corrected himself and dog-paddled to the far wall - 25 feet in two passes.

"Now, if I stay within reach, will you swim back to the opposite ladder?" I asked him. "What if I drown?" - his first words since he had told me his name. "Do you think I will let you?" No answer, but his body seemed primed for action: "Ready, Steady, GO!" I urged, and he kicked off. Every couple of seconds, his body would go rigid with tension, he would grasp for me, just inches out of reach. "Breathe", "Kick", "I'm here", "We're almost there". And we reached.

The coach sat up. "Thank you sir" At the far end, Mum was still talking into her cell-phone. "You didn't drown, hunh?" Pulkit clung to the ladder and regarded me impassively. "Are you tense?", I asked him. "No", he answered, but my palm on his little chest felt his heart thumping away like a scared rabbit's. "Tired, or you want to do another?"


By the time I got out of the pool, Pulkit had crossed its breadth 6 times, the coach was slouching in his chair, and his Mum was still on the phone.

When I had changed and was heading to my cycle, I saw Pulkit playing with his kick-board in the shallow-end of the pool, and caught his mother smiling at him while listening to the other end of her call. The young coach was still slouching in his plastic chair. But he did say "Thank you sir!" again. Polite boy. Bad coach.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you indeed,first for encouraging which his mom should have done & then for coaching which the guy slouching on the chair should have done.Indeed one can see how things have changed so fast, people do not do their job and family which is our support simply is there physically.