CBSE Class XII .. Deep Water by William Douglas
Deep Water by William Douglas
William Douglas had innate aquaphobia. This handicap would have mired his entire life had he not chosen to confront and defeat it.
In this autobiographical account, Douglas details his struggle to learn swimming that was punctuated with many harrowing incidents, one of which nearly to the edge of death. However, the ‘never-say-die’ spirit of Douglas brought him the triumph on his aquaphobic weakness, and made him an accomplished swimmer.
His story runs like this.
When he was a ten or eleven, he decided to learn swimming. For his initiation to this skill, he chose the Y.M.C.A swimming pool at Yakima. The Yakima River which flowed nearby was too treacherous for a young learner. Quite understandably, Douglas’s mother cautioned him not to venture in to the foreboding waters of the river that had taken a few lives already.
The Y.M.C.A swimming pool was scientifically designed with 2-foot depth at the shallow end. At the farthest end, the depth increased to 10 to 12 feet. Its floor sloped gradually towards the deeper end.
The young Douglas got a pair of water wings and proceeded to make his maiden foray into the pool’s waters. As a young boy, he was reluctant to go there virtually naked baring his legs.
The water, however, appeared ominous to the boy from the very start. The awe of water had clung to Douglas from the age of three or four. An outing to the California beach with his father had left some fearful memories. On that occasion, the surging waters overpowered him, nearly drowning him, even if he held tightly to his father’s legs. “Apparently, the water intended to kill him”, thought Douglas. His father stood amused. The dreadful memory, however, haunted him for long years thereafter.
This awful memory came rushing into Douglas’s mind when he waited by the pool side waiting to take his plunge. Nonetheless, he went in paddling, with the water wings in place. There were a few kids in the pool. Douglas looked towards them, trying to imitate their flapping hands and legs. Two to three days went by in such practice. Douglas’s confidence increased marginally. But, there was tragedy waiting.
On a lonely day, when there was no one around, Douglas came to the pool. The water was still, and the floor of the pool was clearly visible. He sat there on the edge of the pool as he thought it imprudent to venture in. He lacked the courage.
A big boy, looking like a bully, came in a short while. He looked 18, with his well-built muscular frame. He was itching for a little fun. Quite brusquely, he shoved Douglas into the pool. Poor Douglas was unprepared for the jolt. He landed in a sitting position, gulped water and sank to the bottom. He was nervous, but didn’t run out of wits. Instantly, he chalked out his plan of action to come out of the danger. He decided to push against the floor with his feet, propel himself up till he reached the surface, lie flat, and then paddle his way to safety.
The floor lay nearly nine feet below. He had to reach it with his feet before he could kick himself up. The sinking appeared frustratingly slow. Remaining breathless so long had made his lungs swell painfully. Finally, his feet made contact with the floor. It was time to push against the floor with his feet. Douglas hit the floor hard with his legs. Sadly for him, his hope of floating up instantly didn’t materialize. Instead, he made his way up rather slowly. It was an excruciating experience. He looked around, but still submerged, he saw nothing but water. His attempt to cry out for help was futile as the water drowned out his cries. He seemed doomed. Happily for Douglas, he finally succeeded to bring his eyes and nose above water. His mouth remained under water.
Douglas made frenetic attempts to emerge to safety, but the water seemed to overpower him. His limbs sapped as he swallowed more water. His legs seemed weak and lifeless. Alas, Douglas was drowning again.
He kicked and punched the water around in desperation. With each passing moment, he became weaker and weaker as the lungs and the brain began to falter. But, Douglas never gave up. He summoned all his grit to think out the rescue plan. He had to hit the floor, kick against it, come up to the surface and swim back to the swallow end of the pool. The plan remained in active mode in his mind as he got drawn deeper and deeper into the water.
Douglas began to panic. An unknown fright gripped him. His limbs were immobilized and his brain lost its discerning power. Poor Douglas wanted to cry out to his mother, but his yells got muffled under water.
Finally, lady luck smiled on Douglas. He emerged from water with his eyes and nose clearly out in the surface. The pervasive darkness vanished. There was light, finally.
But, there was no deliverance from the ordeal yet. Douglas began to go down again. Then something intriguing happened. Douglas felt a new calm. His tired limbs felt relaxed. His brain sensed some conversation going on. People were chatting animatedly. Someone was carrying him in his arms. He didn’t feel any more panic. He seemed to be regaining his senses. But, he lapsed into a queer sort of sleep.
When he woke up, he found himself lying on his stomach by the pool side. He had thrown up. The extra water he had gulped had come out. He overheard someone saying that he was just joking. Apparently, it was the same guy who had pushed him to water. There was relief all around. It seemed as if he had a close brush with death and he has cheated it. He was carried into the locker room.
After a few hours, Douglas was back on his feet, trudging back home. He was weak, frightened and shaken. The incident robbed Douglas of his composure and self-confidence. For days, he was disturbed.
From that day, Douglas shunned the Y.M.C.A pool.
A few years later, the waters of the Cascades beckoned him. He waded through Tieton and the Bumping River. He bathed in the Warm Lake of the Great Rocks. Each time, the horror of the Y.M.C.A pool came back to his mind, gripping him like a vice. A chill went down his spine as he recounted the horror of the drowning incident.
Douglas had grown up. He took the bad memories by his stride, and ventured to enjoy outings in nearby water bodies. In a canoe, he went fishing. But, the fear of water continued to bring misery to him.
Douglas was determined to banish the lingering aquaphobia from his mind. In one October, he engaged a swimming coach to teach him swimming. The coach assembled a rope and pulley assembly that was hooked to preempt any chance of Douglas drowning.
Day after day, Douglas persisted with his swimming practices under the watchful eye of his trainer. He made incremental progress after each session. He gained in confidence as his fear of water receded. But, the progress was not easy. It was punctuated by instances of panic and failures. After three months and hundreds of swims, Douglas finally felt a sense of accomplishment. He was no longer fettered by the fear of water. He learnt how to exhale when his head was under water, and inhale when it was above water.
Then came the feet strengthening exercises. The coach made him sit on the edge of the pool and throw his leg up and down. After a few days, he developed fine command over his legs.
By April, the coach’s perseverance and Douglas’s zeal paid off. He had become a skilled swimmer. The coach let him swim back and forth in the pool with no assistance.
Despite such success, the old horror memories would creep into his mind each time he delved into water. However, Douglas simply cast them off with disdain. He was on the top. He swam back and forth in the pool repeatedly as if to prove his point. Such defiant swimming continued till July.
Douglas was still not satisfied. He went to Wentworth in New Hampshire. He dived off a dock at Triggs Island. He swam in styles, freely and confidently. He stared the old terror in its eyes by putting his eyes under water and looking at the bottom. It was a daring feat for a man who had once nearly drowned in a pool. Like this, Douglas tested his swimming prowess in various locations. Each time, he emerged triumphant.
The relentless pursuit to learn swimming, and banish fear not only bore fruit, but also taught him some valuable lessons in life. He realized how true was President Roosevelt when he said, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Douglas had survived a near death situation once, and later, learnt to dispel the long shadow the horror had cast on his psyche. The conquest emboldened him to defy fear and venture on to nerve-racking feats. He emerged a much stronger man from the childhood ordeal, simply because he chose to confront dread through frontal assault.