To enjoy a state-of-the-art library and a huge tranquil park seemed satisfactory enough for a newcomer to this city, but I soon discovered another one-of-a kind facility — the indoor Olympic Swimming Pool and Fitness center. When I was informed that in 1984, the Olympic Game swimmers practiced here, I felt the pride of being a part of a world class phenomenon. At the edge of the pool, there was a high diving board. It almost reached the high ceiling and looked intimidating. The fancy pool brought my memory back to the days when I watched the games on TV at a flat in Taipei, and how I marveled at the athletes’ amazing speed and power. Excitedly, I enrolled Anelise into the beginner class.
I had a phobia of deep water myself, so I could imagine how water could be as scary as a monster to a child. Anelise had never swum before; in fact, she couldn’t take a overhead shower in fear of water hurting her eyes. To accommodate her, I had always skillfully shampooed her hair, making sure her face was dry throughout. Now, I was determined to get her ready for the lesson. It was time to quit baby baths! I started to train her: I would spray water on her face and dip her face into water in a basin. I tried to get her to take overhead showers in a baby shower cap. Nothing worked. She screamed, fought, and cried. Taking a shower became our nightmares. Our prelude lessons failed, but the real lesson couldn’t wait.
The first class went like this: the coach ordered ten little kids to put on lifejackets and walked them toward the diving board. All the moms sat on the bleachers, watching and smiling. On my face there was a smile, but in my mind I worried about why they needed lifejackets. “It’s for safety, because they are all first time swimmers,” I explained to myself. These little puff-chested, frog-like kids quickly tip-toed to the other end of the pool, their bodies shaking from the cold. They passed the low diving board and kept going. When they reached the high diving board, the coach yelled, “Stop!” He pointed to the sky-high board and yelled again, with a wide smile, “Let’s go up there!” The kids erupted in fearful high pitched screaming. My head froze for some seconds in horror. “No! You can’t make her do this!” I screamed in my mind.
I ran to the coach. “Hey, coach, excuse me! I…, I am…. I…,” I almost choked while stuttering through my poor spoken English. “My daughter, she can’t swim! She can’t go up there!” Finally I managed to complete my words. “Oh, don’t worry! She will be fine with the jacket.” The young man smiled at me indifferently. “No, no, no! She can’t go! It is terrible!” I felt tears fill my eyes, although I was still smiling. “It will be okay! No worries!” He ignored me and turned around, yelling, “Let’s go up there! One after another!” The kids stepped up to the stairs in file. Some of them couldn’t wait and rushed up, dropping and making big splashes with excited screams. Another coach scooped them up out of the pool with a long pole. They were shaking heavily but laughing hard. It seemed fun and fine, I told myself. Anelise was the last one in the row. She was shaking and her face was stern. I knew she was terrified, but she was always obedient to the rules. I knew she was restraining her fear, telling herself not to cry or run away in protest. I had an urge to pull her out and walk away, but with a few seconds of internal struggling, I stepped back, with tears in my eyes.
Now it was her turn to go up. She went up slowly, trembling. Finally, she reached the edge of the diving board. She couldn’t jump. The coach came up behind her and bent down to encourage her. There was no response from Anelise. They were up there for a long time. It was a stand off. Tears kept coming out of my eyes. I wanted to yell to the coach, “Let her come down here! Ler her go!” but my throat was tight. Suddenly, the coach gave her a push. Like a stone, she dropped into the water with a big splash. I was shocked. I ran to the side of the pool, Anelise shot up on the surface of the water, floating. She touched the pole extended to her and grabbed it. Up on the ground, smiling despite shaking, she was safe!
The swimming lessons kept going for some weeks and Anelise gradually got used to water. Amazingly, she started enjoying jumping off the diving board. Anelise eventually swam for her school team from fifth grade until high school and competed in high school water polo. From this experience, I realized: all difficulties can be overcome.