Failure Means a Drowning Death
The summer of 1958, I was enjoying a leisurely afternoon at the lake with a young lady friend. The lake had a platform in the center that you could swim to and which also divided the lake in half. One half was for swimmers, the other for water skiers. I was a very good swimmer and decided to show off for the fine young beauty I was with by swimming out to the platform. I had done this many times before, this shouldn't have been any different.
I began by diving into the water and swimming a short distance underwater. I loved swimming underwater. Once I came up to the surface I swam out towards the center platform. Each time I slowed to see how close I was to the platform it seemed that I hadn't even moved. I swam harder, pushing myself to make the platform but again as I looked it appeared that I hadn't even moved. I did this again and again until I realized that the waves from the water skiers were preventing me from advancing forward. Unfortunately, by this time it was too late. I was exhausted from trying to swim all that way.
They say when you are about to drown you go down three times, but that's nonsense. I went down five times. I tried to yell for help as best I could. I tried to hold my breath, I tried to hold on. But that fifth time I was out of energy. I slipped below the surface of the water. I could feel my body drift down to the bottom of the lake. There was a strange warmth that consumed my body, the light around me was getting dimmer and dimmer, more warmth and then...
Two young teenagers had heard me yelling and saw me slip below the surface of the water. They swam down and pulled me off the bottom of the lake. A couple in a rowboat was nearby and the young couple and the boys pulled me into the boat and took me to the shore. Paramedics revived me and I was taken to the hospital where I spent three days.
Those days in the hospital were mostly filled with recurring nightmares of my drowning. I relived it again and again. Even after I was sent home, for several weeks afterward I would wake up screaming every time I'd fall asleep. Never in my life had I been afraid of anything like this. In fact, before this happened I had already done three underwater escapes in a swimming pool. But drowning never entered my thoughts back then. Once it happened, it consumed my waking thoughts and my dreams at night.
I mention the three previous underwater escapes in a pool because my next underwater escape was coming up. This time it was going to take place in a lake. The thought of it now was terrifying. I would break out in a cold sweat, seriously. To give you an idea of just how frightening this was to me, my brother, two friends and I went to lake Chabot with all of my escape gear. We were going to rehearse the upcoming escape. I was unable to get out of the car. I was petrified. Everyone got back into the car and we drove home in complete silence. I was sick to my stomach, terror filled my mind. My friends and brother were equally as scared, not for themselves but for me. How on earth do I get ahold of this fear???
I asked my Dad for advice. He knew full well how scared I was. Many nights I woke him up, along with the rest of the family, with my screaming nightmares. My Dad gave me some strong advice, "stare down your fear." Not very politically correct, but facing my fear was the only thing I could do, otherwise it would haunt me my entire life.
That night before bed, I prayed and asked God to help me deal with my fear. I then dozed off to sleep. At 12:30 a.m. I woke up sweating, there was golden glow in my room given off by the light of the full moon, I gave a short sigh and then I heard a voice in my head say "go back to sleep".
Almost instantly I fell into a very deep sleep. Again, I relived every moment, every second of my drowning. I could feel the warmth, I could feel my body floating downwards, I could see the light getting dimmer, more warmth and then the light got brighter, I felt warmer, my arms reached out to something, what I don't know, but they reached outwards. I felt a peace, a calmness, I felt hands on my body and then I felt myself floating upwards, up, up, higher, I could feel a hot light and then I saw an angel, a red haired angel, I felt hands on me and then suddenly, blackness.
There was a voice echoing in my head, Steve, Steve....It was my brother. "You're moaning, did you have that dream again?" He asked me. No. In fact I never had that dream ever again. And I've never since been afraid of drowning or water.
Since that time I have performed nearly 200 underwater escapes and fear was never a factor to worry about. The memory of my drowning motivated me to stay alert, always check my equipment, keep my safety at hand and never take chances!!!