• Stephanie Hammond

Fears can be mastered

So this fear of drowning plagued me all my life. Growing up in Australia, everyone was expected to be able to swim, even in our town where we were hours from the sea. We had the municipal baths and lessons were part of our schooling. I did very well, surprisingly, as long as I could touch the bottom of the pool with my hands while floating face down. As soon as I got into deeper water, I sank and spluttered until they let me go back to the shallows.

I was the one who sat on the edge of the creek, dangling my feet in the water, longing to swing out on the rope and drop into the middle. Too scared. Thankfully, none of my friends thought to push me in. Somehow they respected my reluctance.

Then one day, as a grown woman with four or five children, we were at our friends’ place. We’d helped them put in a swimming pool and they were having a barbecue to celebrate. It was a beautiful scene, with the sun sparkling on the clear water, plants all around, and seats and umbrellas to give relief from the sun. Everyone was encouraged to hop in and have a swim. I declined, graciously I thought.

The man of the house, ever the practical joker, picked me up and jumped into the pool with me. I was so scared I vomited.

He was mortified that he’d caused me so much distress. But honestly, it was probably the best thing anyone could have done for me. I realised I had this irrational fear and it was time to do something about it.

I enrolled in adult swimming lessons. I was the only pupil (remember, Aussies learn to swim as children). The instructor was too ‘friendly’ with his touching, so I quit. I didn’t learn then, but the desire never left me.

When I was eight, my family had a holiday in Cairns. We went out to the Great Barrier Reef in a glass bottomed boat and visited an underwater observatory. I fell in love with that underwater world with its glorious fish and coral and vowed that one day I’d swim with the fishes.

Then, when I was in my late 30s and my marriage had broken up, I determined to give myself a treat, do something I had never been able to do. It didn’t take long for that long ago memory to surface and I enrolled in a scuba diving course.

One of the criteria was to be able to dive in the pool and swim 25 metres. I ticked the box where it said “can you swim?” My girlfriend then taught me to dive into the pool and she assured me if I swam underwater a bit they’d never know I couldn’t swim. By this time in my life I had mastered a credible dog paddle but definitely nothing else.

The day came for my swimming test and I did as she suggested and was accepted into the class. I was on my way to overcoming that horrendous fear that had plagued me all my life.

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