Swimming AND Diving


I have been a swimmer for about 35 years.  One of my earliest memories is from 1975 — swimming lessons in the “old pool.”  My instructor was some eye-rolling swim team teenager who waved his coach over and soon some Assistant TO THE Swim Team Coach was walking  me to the “new pool” where, in my estimation, about 493 Large People were cruising non-stop, like, probably faster than cars go down 11-E.  I mean like Mark Spitz FAST.  Some of those guys could push up out of the pool jumping straight to a standing position.  How am I even allowed over here?

Thus began my aquatic journey.   A few weeks later I realized I got a Team Suit in the deal…AND  a PRACTICE SUIT?  Jackpot!  (That’s me on the left with Susan and Angela–my rivals from this day through high school!)

My sister & our lycra-clad friends spent our summers waiting to race down the grassy hill to the back fence.  That was a happy 8-12 minutes tossing towels in the air and complaining about how hot it was and wondering how much longer until Lifeguard/Swim Team Stud Randy Thacker would come unlock the fence, pointlessly yell at us not to run, and open the gate while we streamed in like bees out of a hive.

swimteam sisters 2

Coach Holland as I recall was an old Colonel Sanders type, but without the facial hair & bolo tie.  Dressed in a crisp white tee shirt and khaki shorts he was a legend in the community.  A kind and beloved Coach, perfect  for my 8 and Under & 9-10  years.  Just as I made the aquatic transition from 25s to 50s as a newly-minted 11-12, Coach Holland retired and was replaced by University of Tennessee stud muffin Coach Kendall who had a million dollar smile and a caucasian fro, wore a sweet  Fleetwood Mac tee shirt and who, like a hippie, made us do weird things like stretch out before we swam.  This was WAY before yoga was mainstream.  In East TN.

I remember the 15-17 girls swooning over him.  I didn’t get it.


One of our end-of-season meets was held at the UT pool.  As we entered the impressive natatorium,  there, in living color…was Coach McSplashy on a Big Orange poster.

Well, that, shall we say, was it.  I mean, he was no Greg Brady.  Far from it, but he was the first celebrity with whom I was on a first name basis.  As in, “Coach Kendall, am I in the free relay?” and “Shannon…QUIT WALKING AND SWIM.”  Good times.

Then came Coach Huntsinger.  He had kids a tad younger than I was.  And a wee bit of a temper every now & then.  Understandably so when there are as many degrees in the air as kids not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  He rubbed his forehead.  A lot.

But he stood out there in his flip flops in the sun summer after summer, showing us the breaststroke kick and cultivating a large family following and a handful of champions.  When I was getting ready to graduate, he also came to ask me to Assistant (To The) with him and “just keep the 10 & unders busy down there.”  I was thrilled.

I lifeguarded and swam recreationally through the college years and probably upped my GPA by taking one or seven Red Cross classes for P.E. credit at Samford University.  Then I got a grown up job.  And a husband, kids, and a myriad of other responsibilities.

Fast Forward >20 years.

Last year I decided to renew my long dormant Water Safety Instructor course.  I was in a class of 20 students.  One was a grandmother.  Another was a mom of a toddler.  Three classmates were 22-28.

The rest I could have given birth to myself.

The strokes I managed easily, but then came a diving component.   LifeguardsayWHAAAAT???

When I was 15 in The Year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Three, there was no “diving component.”  When I was 19 in college and retaking this course because I had let it lapse, there was no “diving component.”  But in 2010?  The 5th Anniversary of YouTube?  We are gonna make old ladies do tricks off the diving board.

I mean the wind up, backwards arms, knee up, pike-flying EVERYTHING.

So, yeah.

I was literally swimming AND DIVING from 9:00 to 4:00 on the anniversary of my 15th official Mother’s Day .  Off the springboard.  Off the starting blocks.  Etcetera.  After a series of no doubt spectacular springboard dives, complete with involuntary yelp I said (to myself) “Daaang…of all things, why is my big toe so sore?”  And then I answered myself.  “Oh.  right.  The bunion.”

And it might interest you to know:  they don’t use splintered off wooden benches with sandpaper nailed onto them at the 2.5′ end any more.  Shocking.

So there I was…bunion throbbing and whey-the-hail up high on a tilted degree platform not designed for a 40+ Woman Who Has Lived A Full Life Up To This Point.  I said a quick prayer and stepped sideways onto that 45 degree tilted cracker they call a starting block nowadays and kerSHHHHPLLUUUUUNKED down about 5 1/2 feet in all my Biggest Loser semi-streamlined posistion.

Glory Hallelujah, somehow I passed.

P. S.  My proudest moment was when Cox high school student CB asked me, “Did you used to swim when you were, like, younger or something cuz we just saw your start & it was like, “woah.”   I laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s been a while.”

I guess you can teach an old dog a new dive!

I’m diving in/I’m going deep/In over my head I wanna be

Caught in the rush/Lost in the flow/in over my head I wanna go

The River’s deep/The River’s wide/The River’s water is alive

So sink or swim I’m diving in


5 responses »

  1. Wow, just realized I was probably in swim lessons with you at the “new pool.” My aunt, Lorene Byrd, used to take me and my cousins (Les and Lana) to swim lessons every summer and because of distance and other “issues” I never had the chance to be on the swim team, but was jealous from afar :)…great story.

  2. Shannon!!! I really enjoyed reading your post!!! It is wonderful to read about your aquatic path…you are a true FISH! 😉 I was disappointed to not read about your syncronized swimming days or you extreme talent with working with individuals with special needs in the aqautic setting! 😉 I put it out there…maybe there will be another chapter of this priceless story of how you grew yor GILLS! 😉 See ya at swim!

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