Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Running Out of Air

Trey Smith

In my 9:45 a.m. post, I talked about the time I thought I might become a fatality of a forest fire. The only two other times I thought I might die suddenly -- not counting my numerous panic attacks -- concerns not fire but water. In both instances, I thought I would drown.

I don't personally remember the first instance at all. It happened when I was 4 or 5. I was at a swimming pool with my parents and, though I hadn't learned to swim at this point, the water looked cool and inviting. In fact, it looked so inviting that little Trey jumped into the deep end...and sank like a rock! My mother -- an expert swimmer who to this day still holds a swimming record at the University of Missouri* -- fished me out of the water. Once she was sure that I was okay, she yelled at me like there was no tomorrow. Can't say that I blame her!

I do remember the other incident and I occasionally have nightmares about it. For some insane reason, teenaged Trey decided that he wanted to touch the lake bottom underneath the floating dock at his maternal grandparent's home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was estimated by one of his uncles that the dock floated approximately 10 -12 feet above the bottom of Lake Hamilton.

Meh, 10 - 12 feet doesn't sound that far! So, numbskull Trey set about to jump high off the dock to see if he could reach the lake bottom. In his disorganized teenaged mind, he thought he had developed a winning strategy. Jump into the water straight as a stick and, when the lake bottom was reached, use his powerful legs to push off the earth to propel himself quickly to the surface.

Unfortunately, Trey didn't factor in two critical variables. The first of these is that, unlike the bottom of a concrete swimming pool, lake bottom is not smooth and it can be quite slippery. When Trey went to push off of the bottom, he wasn't able to generate as much force as he thought he would because he was pushing off of mud. This meant he had to exert far more energy than originally calculated because he had to swim hard for the surface.

Variable #1 ran smack dab into variable #2: air. Frantically trying to make it back to the surface without the intake of air into the lungs ain't so damn easy. Several feet from the surface, Trey had expended all the air he was holding in. He desperately needed to breathe, but he was still underwater. It seemed like an eternity before I got to the surface and, for a long moment, I didn't think I would make it. Yes, I truly thought I was a goner.

But the will to live is strong and I somehow forced my way to the surface just in the nick of time. Had it taken another second or two, I would have drowned because, in another bonehead move, I was swimming alone. There was no one there to rescue me.

I pulled my quivering body up the swim ladder onto the dock. I sat there shaking for quite a long time because I realized that I was damn lucky to be sitting there at all. Because of my teenage bravado, I had done something incredibly ill-advised and had come within the blink of an eye of killing myself unintentionally. Even worse, no one would have known for several hours or longer.

My grandparents, parents and brother would have gone looking for me and probably not have found a trace. Either my lifeless body would have washed ashore somewhere on the lake or the dive team eventually would have retrieved it. My reckless actions would have caused untold suffering and sorrow for my loved ones.

Yes, I had reached my goal of touching the lake bottom off of the dock, but I wasn't in a celebratory mood. I realized that it wasn't worth the potential cost. Unsurprisingly, I never tried to replicate the feat again.

*Note: The reason my mother still holds a swimming record at Mizzou is that they discontinued the event a year or two after she graduated in the mid 50s.

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