Sunday 23 October 2016

Reaching a sudden decision that was 25 years in the making

Fed up with splashing around in the shallow end, John Greene feels it's time to take the plunge

Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30

Wet wet wet: John Greene gets ready for his first lesson. Photo: David Conachy
Wet wet wet: John Greene gets ready for his first lesson. Photo: David Conachy

It is 25 years since my uncle fished me out of a swimming pool early one evening in Santa Ponsa. I don't remember much about it, or even how I came to be in the deep end in the first place, but I know he never forgot it. He swallowed so much chlorine trying to keep my head above water until someone lifted me to safety, that he was sick for a couple of days.

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That was the year I did my Leaving Cert. Strangely, the fact that I nearly drowned didn't set off any alarm bells that learning to swim might be a good idea. In a house of seven, I was - and still am - the only one not able to swim.

And so I have, pardon the pun, drifted through the years, splashing about in the shallow end, or close to the shore, or paddling down the Boyne trusting completely in a life jacket (sorry, flotation device), with some sort of vague regret swirling around that I couldn't actually swim. It was always there, that regret, but I can't say that it ever went any further than that.

I have been thinking a lot lately about that incident in Majorca; partly because my uncle passed away recently and the story of his rescue, which has been told many times over the years in our family, was aired again at his wake; but also because when I had my eureka moment a few weeks ago, it was an instant decision that had been 25 years in the making. I am going to learn to swim.

I understand now why he never forgot that evening. I have two small children and there is nothing like walking along a river bank with them to focus the mind, knowing that if one of them falls in I am utterly helpless to do anything about it. It is a terrifying thing to experience because children are naturally curious and want to peer over the edge. I, on the other hand, am gripped by panic in these moments, paralysed by the knowledge that, if I have to jump into water I cannot stand up in, I'm in trouble. On the few occasions that I have tried, I am assured that the flailing arms and legs are not a pretty sight.

Unusually, though, for someone of my age who can't swim, I'm not afraid of the water; there is certainly respect, but fear, no. The thing is, I have never been able to grasp any of the basic concepts of swimming and its techniques. In fact, I don't even know what they are so the only thing I can do is to start from scratch. I've heard in the last few weeks, now that I've opened up and told people I can't swim, that it's all about breathing. We'll see.

I've asked my instructor to begin at ground zero, to take nothing for granted in terms of ability or knowledge when she is working with me. Her name is Grainne, and she was recommended to me by a neighbour. She says she's looking forward to the challenge. I'm not so sure.

My cousin, James Gallagher, wants me to do my first triathlon next July, starting with a 750-metre swim in the River Shannon at Lanesboro. Hopefully the armbands will be off by then.

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