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The End of 4-Foot Bob



When I was 7 years old, I would walk to the 4-foot deep level of the local lake and stand on the lake bottom with my nose just above the water.  Because of that, my Father called me 4-foot Bob.  Unfortunaely, I couldn't swim.  One day, as I walked to the 4-foot level of the lake, I lost my footing and went below the surface of the water.  After flailing about for a bit, I regained my footing and slowly walked back to land.  That was the end of 4-foot Bob; that was nearly the end of my life in the water.  Some events stay with you for life.  Almost drowning, is one such event and it stayed with me for 60 years.  For those 60 years, I managed to avoid the water.  Yes, I feared the water. 

When I was 67, I decided to conquer my fear of the water and learn how to swim.  I joined the YMCA (Y) and signed up for private swimming lessons.  If I was going to drown, I was going to do it in private.  The local Y has 2 indoor pools--a warm water (kiddie) pool with a maximum depth of about 5 feet and a 25 meter (adult) pool with a maximum depth of 7.5 feet.  I began in the kiddie pool and it took all of my courage to walk to the 3 foot level of the pool.  At that level, I was terrified and my body trembled.  This stuff surrounding me in the pool tried to kill me once and I didn't trust it.  Fortunately, my instuctor was very patient.  At first, I held on to the edge of the pool and kicked with my face in the water and then with my back in the water.  Another drill we did was to stand in the water after I had been on my back.  Let's just say it was ugly.  After that, I tried to float on my back.  I couldn't do it because part of me always sank.  Then I tried the freestyle stroke.  I sank at that too.  I was in the kiddie pool for quite some time before I graduated to the larger pool but I eventually did.

The nice part about the adult pool was that it had a warning line to let you know where the water began to get deep.  That line and I became close friends.  The depth at that point quickly went from about 4.5 feet to 7.5 feet.  I began in the adult pool with the elementary backstroke.  With that stroke, you get on your back, expand your arms, and pull them to your side while you do a basic kick.  With my instructor with me, I would swim from the 3 foot level all the way down to the 7.5 foot level.  When she wasn't there, I would stop at the warning line before it got deep.  After the elementary backstroke, I worked on the freestyle stroke.  That is swimming with your face in the water and breathing when you turn your head to the side to get some air.  Initially, I couldn't do a length of the pool while doing the freestyle.  Now I can and more.  In fact, I've done over 20 lengths of the pool at a time using a variety of strokes.  Some freestyle, some backstroke, some on my back with flippers, some with a snorkel, some just pulling myself through the water with my arms.  I can swim now and I am perfecting the breast stroke. That is quite an accomplishment when I remember I once shuddered at the 3-foot level standing in the kiddie pool.  In addition to not drowning in the water, the water keeps my body in tone and burns calories.  Yes, water can be your friend.

What's the moral of my story?  The most basic is:  if I can do it, so can you.  Another is:  you're never to old to learn.  Just because we are aging, we don't have to quit on life.  I've picked up the pace of my life as you will discover on my future blog entries.  Be healthy, learn something new, and have fun doing it.


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I can certainly relate to your near drowning, childhood experience, Judge.

Back in the early 1950’s, when I was about 3 or 4, our family took a vacation up in Northern Minnesota. My folks rented a cabin on a lake (I have now forgotten the name). As soon as we arrived and got out of the car, My older and younger bros and the parents and I walked down to a dock in front of the cabin.

In my memory, it seems to have been at least six feet above the water.  That is probably only because I was tiny. I clearly remember being so excited that I took off running down the dock with my parents yelling from the shore, “wait, Joey”!!   I ran right off the end of the dock, plunging into the water with all my clothes on.  My 12 or 13 year old, big brother ran after me and jumped in, also fully clothed, and saved my stupid “self”. 

Several years later, I start taking yearly summer swimming lessons at the nearest pool to our little town, which was 20 miles away in Red Wing, MN. I could swim, although not well enough to do freestyle- mostly backstroke and sidestroke.  The “deep end” always  scared me. 

Moving forward to 1960, we took a summer vacation from MN to Seattle. We stopped in Rapid City, SD on the way home, staying at a motel with a pool. This pool had a deep end separated by a floating rope. While walking next to the rope, I accidentally stepped under the rope, only to discover a vertical drop off into “ the deep end”. I panicked and went straight down, flailing my arms and legs, To no avail. I couldn’t surface. I saw my short life “passing by” for what seemed to be an eternity. I began A prayer for God to forgive me and let me in to Heaven. Suddenly, the pool lifeguard jumped in and rescued me. He pulled me up and out on the concrete apron. I was expecting a severe tongue lashing but he simply asked me how I was. He explained that all I had to do was not panic, stay calm and I would have floated to the surface. My hero! 

I didn’t learn how to swim the American freestyle crawl until I was 34 years old, living in a Corps of Engineers Housing Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Our kids took swim lessons from the Corps’ Recreation Director, who had been on the Egyptian National Swim Team. The kids were six and eight and swam  on the USACE Swim Team. He talked my wife and I into taking adult lessons. I became good enough to swim on our adult team for local Inter City competitions. 

Yes, the moral is to preservere and you’re not too old to conquer your fears and overcome your perceived limitations.


Edited by joel hoffman

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Oh, my six year old daughter was the top girl swimmer in six and under in the City of Riyadh.  She was the second place finisher in the Kingdom-Wide, Junior AAU Swim Meet in Jeddah that year. She swam in single stroke events, team relays  and in a four stroke medley event against numerous other girls from many organizations and nationalities. We were Sooo Proud parents! She was the one who inspired me to compete...❤️

I still can swim at 69.

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Thanks Joel.  A few weeks back, I took a ride with Google Maps to the spot in the lake where I almost drowned.  Sixty years ago, I think the lake had a diferent name but I still recognize that spot.  Oh, I changed my profile name to Bob1.

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