Persisting On

Taking a Dive and Failing

September 19, 2018

After somewhat of a hiatus and with a gentle kick from University of Venus founder, Mary Churchill, I have found my writing groove again. If only Mary could wave her wand and find me time also. In this post, I reflect on new a personal challenge and goal, and a lesson from failure. As I write this initial piece on my adventure into scuba diving, I am looking forward to part deux and hoping to savor the journey that will precede a lifetime of underwater explorations.

In my late thirties, I learned how to ride a bike. It had been a life-long dream, and my entire street was committed to seeing me achieve that goal. The Saturday I decided to learn, my neighbors tried a number of strategies to get me to balance on the bike. My children do it so effortlessly, but I struggled, a fish out of water. In the end, the most effective was the neighbor who took me to her backyard and pushed me down an incline and yelled “keep pedaling” over and over until I fell to the ground because I had not yet mastered turns. I learned to ride a bike in Paul and Ellen’s backyard just as their two children did. I then returned to bike in the middle of the street with my neighborhood cheering me on. For me, it was a sweet victory. So, it was only natural that after one swimming lesson, I decided that I was ready to earn my scuba diving license. I convinced myself that it was mind over matter. After all, I have been snorkeling in the wide ocean alone and with others for over 15 years.

Growing up in a culture where it was frowned upon for girls and women to ride a bicycle, I missed out on one of the most elementary activities for a child. Swimming was another activity that was only for boys, not girls. As a shark and marine life enthusiast, not knowing how to swim has never stopped me from exploring the open waters of the Caribbean with just my snorkeling gear. Chasing sharks, stingrays, turtles, interesting fish, and admiring the beauty of the ocean floor are my favorite activities. Snorkeling is also a great meditative activity for me. The warm Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean have become great places for reflection and inspiration for me.

Much like learning how to ride a bike, I have some great cheerleaders behind me this time.  A few weeks ago, I started my tenure at Greenfield Community College. Once the word got out that I was going to learn how to scuba, it felt like every other person with whom I spoke at the College was a diver. We have a few marine biologists, other shark enthusiasts, and even a baby shark in an aquarium on campus. What more could have I asked for! (Perhaps warmer waters in these parts of the world).

After a practice scuba orientation, I started my first scuba diving class on a Tuesday evening the week after classes started—with just one formal swimming class under my belt. I know it’s bewildering that I can snorkel with no life jacket, but can’t swim. Again, I convinced myself that it was mind over matter—that I could pass the swimming test for the scuba class. The class required that aspiring divers jump off the deep end and pass a series of swimming proficiency demonstrations. It was my first time diving into a pool and starting from the deep end. Although I have jumped off boats into the deep ocean so many times, jumping into that pool with no enticing fish or tempting coral to admire, I stood there looking at the water trying to muster the courage to jump in. I had asked to go last and, finally, we were at the end. Alas, it was my turn!

It was scary. I dove in, nonetheless. I brought myself up from the bottom and began swimming. That I dove in, without snorkeling gear, and took off swimming was in itself an accomplishment for me. As I swam, I remembered the words of my instructor: “kick from the hip, it’s okay to make a big splash.”  I knew that I should put my head down the water and blow to help me last longer, but I didn’t. With nearly one lap down, I kept on thinking, wow, eight more laps await me. I had not yet mastered a range of techniques from which to choose when I reached my limit with the first lap. There was no way I could swim that much in that moment.

In the end, I failed the test, but I exceeded my own expectations for what was possible. So now, I go back to the starting point: to become a proficient swimmer. That will take practice, persistence, and great determination. I now know what to expect of the swimming test and I know that I achieved the dive into 10 feet of water with no fins and no mask. And that was my biggest feat!

I am giving myself the next 12 months to learn how to swim, how to scuba, and earn my open water certification. Who knows? Maybe I will become one of those people whom I always thought were crazy for diving off of the freezing waters of Rockport, MA!


Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez is the President of Greenfield Community College, located in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts. Her Twitter handle is @PrezYves



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