Heels over Head


As a youth, I was on the swim team at the local pool. I excelled at freestyle and backstroke, and did well enough at breaststroke and butterfly as to be assigned those spots on the relay teams on which I participated. Backstroke was always my favorite, and it was the backstroke events that earned me the most ribbons.

The swim team was an eclectic group of people, and I enjoyed being a member of the team for several years. Waiting around at swim meets saw us playing marathon games of Bullshit, or quick dungeon crawls in Dungeons & Dragons. The end-of-season party at the pool was always a highlight of the summer. Events included the famous greased watermelon, whereby a greased watermelon was placed into the middle of the pool, and whoever was able to hoist it out of the pool onto the walk would win (I forget now what the prize was). Another favorite, I forget the name now, involved quarters and nickels thrown into the pool, and participants collected as many as they could. Two or three quarters were painted red, and if collected were worth $10. I usually did pretty well at this one, and usually got crushed (literally) in the greased watermelon event.

The absolute high point of the party, though, was the opportunity to jump off the 32’ diving platform. The pool has two three foot diving boards, two ten foot boards, and a sixteen foot platform. The sixteen foot platform is a cement structure. When I was a kid, there was a metal girder atop this platform, going up to thirty two feet (it’s since been dismantled). The 32’ platform was off limits through the regular swim season, and only ever used by the OSU diving team who occasionally came to practice. It was a real treat to watch these people practice. At the end of year party, all members of the swim team were permitted to jump off the 32’ platform. Words cannot describe the experience: it was almost always late in the evening when the team captains permitted us to climb the girder, so it was dark outside. The pool lights only provided dim illumination up there, and only one person was allowed up at a time. One would climb the metal steps slowly, almost reverently, until they reached the top. You’d stand there, alone in the dark, and it felt like you were standing at the top of the world. The pool below looked really small. Fear filled me every time I stepped toward the edge, looking down at the calm water. The drop felt interminable, and my screams of joy seemed to ring out forever until finally I plunged hard into the cool water. Heart pounding I would kick to the surface and scream again, filled with sheer exuberance.

In addition to the swim team, I was also a member of the diving team for a few years. I’m not sure why I tried out for the diving team, nor why I stuck with it for as long as I did. I hated it. And I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was literally terrified of the back dive and the inward. I clearly remember one dive meet where I stood on the board for literally six or seven minutes, paralyzed with fear, trying to perform an inward dive. Someone in the audience grew impatient and was less than polite. After another few moments, he was joined by a handful of others, calling for me to hurry up and dive. If only they could have experienced the gut-wrenching dread I felt.

So it is with some sense of experience that I appreciate Tayler’s fear of diving. Tyler loves to dive, and has been diving for at least a year now. But then she’s always been the daredevil, doing somersaults off the ten foot board when she was seven years old. It’s quite a sight to see a seven year old – tiny, vulnerable – flip her body in the air. The lifeguard on duty audibly gasped as she watched Tyler’s small frame rotate end over end, and land feet first in the water. There was a collective sigh of relief from several adults nearby. It’s little surprise that Tyler likes to dive. And she’s damned cute as she walks to the end of the board, arms over her head, hands pressed together in a triangle, before she leaps headfirst into the water.

Tayler, on the other hand, has a very hard time diving. Last week at the pool, I decided to make it my mission to get her to dive. I spent several long minutes explaining how to do it. We practiced the motion safely in the normal swimming pool, with Tayler standing on my knees, or in my hands, learning to fall forward. When she got to the end of the diving board, though, she froze. Several times she jumped in bent in half, so that her feet and hands hit the water at almost the same time. Finally a nearby mom asked her young daughter to show Tayler how she had learned to dive. The young girl got onto one knee at the end of the board and gently fell, headfirst, into the water. Tayler studied the pose, and the process, and finally decided to give it a try. She was practically shaking as she bent to one knee. Without much ceremony she leaned over and plunged headfirst into the water. It was a shame that she was submerged as I whooped my pride! When she rose to the surface, I congratulated her several times. She made a few more dives using this technique before finally taking the plunge (pun intended) with a standing dive.

She dived a few more times, each time getting more and more confident. I felt mildly proud of myself, and rewarded her with ice cream from the local ice cream shoppe. Yesterday we went to the pool again, and I encouraged Tayler to try a few more dives. She hemmed and hawed, and ultimately refused to dive. I tried to bribe her, saying that I would do a flip if she would do a dive.

Let me pause here, and say without shame that I have always wanted to do a flip, but have always been far too chicken to actually try it. I watch with palpable envy as kids a third my age – including my own daughter – flip without fear or hesitation.

Tayler finally agreed, and did a dive. Ever a man of my word, I walked to the end of the board, bounced high into the air, and kicked my feet over with as much force as I could muster. It felt like an eternity that I hung there, slowly rotating heels over head. The ground replaced the sky above me, and slowly came back around toward level again. Then, just like in the movies, time caught up and I was plunging into the water. At first, I was terrified that I was going to land squarely – and painfully – on my back. But to my surprise, my feet entered the water first. I’m quite sure that the people walking around the pool could hear me whoop with excitement from underwater.

To my supreme disappointment, neither of my kids watched me fulfill this lifelong dream. They were both walking toward the sixteen foot platform, from which they absolutely love to jump. When I caught their attention, I told them what I had done. They shrugged, and seemed nonplussed. My shoulders sagged in defeat. After a few minutes, though, I perked up: if I did it once, then surely I could do it again! I called the kids over to watch me, to make sure they were witness to my newfound acrobatic ability. Again I bounced on the board, and again I hurled my shoulders down and my feet up. Again the sky gave way to the water in my vision, only to resume its rightful place above me. And again my feet crashed into the water before me.

When I surfaced, Tyler was fervently clapping her hands and shouting “Daddy!” Tayler smiled her approval.

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