Keeping my Head Above Water.


In Grade 10, I found little tactics to help me succeed. I enjoyed the ideas of control and efficiency, so I tried to keep track of my time during lunch hour, trying to eat as fast as I could, and then racing to the school library to get as much homework done before the bell rang. I liked being in charge of my own time. I remember feeling fast, capable, and flush with a sense of personal control and discipline. I was never better than a C or C+ student, but I’d been giving myself challenges, feeling motivated, and getting my homework done on time. These were things that I could control and take pride in.

My Red Cross Survival badge (c.1980)

In gym, we were taking swim lessons. Killarney Secondary had a large community centre next door, with a skating rink and large swimming pool, and my gym class was learning a variety of water survival skills. We learned how to swim down and retrieve rings off the bottom of the pool’s deep end, and to practise treading water, and do the “deadman’s float” – a resting, energy-saving exercise where you float facedown, in a relaxed position for minutes at a time. We were also asked to wear an old t-shirt and pair of jeans in the pool, and we were made to practise swimming in them and treading water for as many minutes as possible. I think these exercises were intended to remove one’s fear of the water, and learn to conserve energy.

I loved and enjoyed these exercises more than any other gym activity. They were calming and helpful, and felt useful and practical, unlike team sports which seemed contrived and overly aggressive. It wasn’t some stupid game with a shit-tonne of rules – it was literally a sink or swim proposition, and I loved the stakes of that, because it really wasn’t a game at all. I could relate to sink or swim.