Recently, there was a little temperature issue in the pool where our kids take their swimming lessons. While we thought they might warm up when they started moving around, ultimately, it was too cold for them to go the distance and the lessons were cut short.
As I watched them huddled together for body heat, teeth chattering, I was reminded of a particularly cold summer morning in Gravenhurst, Ontario sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s. It was grading day for swimming badges at overnight camp and the lake was freezing.
It was so cold that all of us refused to jump in for testing. The instructors told us that if we didn’t get in the water we had no chance of earning our badges.
I was the lone jumper. I was the only one in the lake that day, the only one who completed the test, and at the award ceremony later that evening I was the only one whose name was called to get my green swimming badge. This is the only swimming badge I can remember receiving and it was a defining moment in my life.
Swimming was always one of my favourite activities. I loved the water and could swim for hours but I think I also had good technique and speed. I remember being especially proud of my racing turns.
In fact, by the time I was 10 years old I had earned all of my lifesaving badges and was ready to enrol in bronze cross. Unfortunately, bronze cross wasn’t ready for me. At that time, you had to be 13 to take your bronze and because of my age I had hit a ceiling.
The swim school I went to offered me synchronized swimming instead. But they failed to mention that no one else had signed up for the class.
Once again I found myself alone in the water. Except this time instead of pride I felt only embarrassment as I propelled my body around in sad, little circles with one leg sticking up in the air.
I let swimming go. The years that passed between ten and thirteen were important ones to be active, to be passionate about something, and for me it was over before it began. By the time I was 13 I had lost interest in swimming and replaced it with unhealthy habits that would last for the next decade.
If I had been able to take my bronze cross at 10 years old, it might have changed the trajectory of my life, but I’ll never know. Thinking back, this may have been the moment that marked the beginning of my non-sporty life.
These memories reinforce how important it is to me that our kids go into their teenage years physically active, confident, and feeling amazing about themselves and what they can do. And they remind me that sport and physical activity can provide character-building opportunities that test our mettle and show us the depths of what we can achieve.
Many times since that day I have called upon the will, determination, and strength that allowed me to jump into that freezing lake. Especially as a parent.