Still Green and Growing: Learning to Dive

Learning to Dive at 68

Professor Joe Goldblatt

My father, of blessed memory, learned to use the Internet at the age of 82. He established one of the first e – mail accounts through an early internet service provider known as CompuServe. When I asked my father why late in life he decided to “go on line” he looked at me in shock horror and said “I want to be able to communicate with my grandchildren. This is how their generation shall communicate in the future.”

When I told him that I preferred the personal hand written notes that he and mama had written me in college, he turned to me waving his finger and said “You are old fashioned!” He then explained that one must never allow their knowledge to ripen because once that happens rot shall soon follow. He ended my argument about old versus new by simply stating “In order to grow, you must remain green throughout your entire life.”

Perhaps this is why at the age of 68 I told my wife that I fancied learning to dive. I recalled that when I was a wee lad of four my father, a former professional life guard, took my sister and I to a large out door swimming pool and begin to teach us to swim. His idea of teaching was literally and figuratively through sudden immersion.

Papa gently led me onto the three metre diving board and told me to sit upon the end. Then he dove into the deep end and called upon me to roll off the board into his strong arms. I immediately followed his invitation and still recall the thrill of that first tiny splash into his secure arms that held me high as together we paddled to the side of the pool.

During my youth and adulthood I have always enjoyed swimming. Fortunately, I stay near Edinburgh’s only Olympic size swimming pool with a large five metre deep diving well. Therefore, I have had plenty of opportunity to practice my limited swimming strokes and I have often looked to my left and watched children and adults as they gracefully performed swan dives from the low, medium and high boards. I also dreamed about following in their footsteps.

Therefore, when the Royal Commonwealth Pool re – opened following the second extended lock down I decided to literally take the plunge. I signed up for a private one on one diving lesson thinking that learning to dive with an expert would be a safe, secure and confident way to put my ten toes back in the water.

Upon arrival, I met Finlay who is about my height, however he is a giant in terms of experience as a diving coach. I was previously told by other members of the staff that my lesson would probably begin with a few pool side stretches to help me limber up and allow the teacher to assess my abilities.

To my immediate surprise, Finlay said, “On yer go. Put your toes on the side of the pool, arms above your head, hands together, and jump in.” I was gobsmacked by his confidence in my ability to perform this first skill, a straight shape jump, in such a short period of time.

Feet together, hands linked straight about my head and knees bent, I jumped as high as possible from the side of the pool into the deep blue water in search of the leviathan. Immediately, my ear drums recognignised the difference between my swimming pool depth of two metres and the diving pool’s depth of five metres. I quickly paddled to the surface to ease the pressure within my ears and also reassure myself that Finlay was still pool side should I need him to rescue me from the depths.

“Well done! Next time, bend the knees a little further and then when you jump in, arch slightly forward a wee bit.” With these simple instructions, I soon found myself improving every time I jumped into the water. Soon, I was feeling more confident and Finlay invited me to learn to jump like a small fish called a Pike.

A Pike jump requires that I place my hands together in front of my upper torso and spring from the side of the pool landing hands first in the water. What happened next may only be described as a sixty – eight year old psychedelic experience.

As soon as my hands pressed against the water, I uncontrollaby went into a full tumble turn. As the inertia of the turn took control of my body I found my internal organs announcing “Help! This was not supposed to happen at our age!”

When I emerged from the water, I had a huge grin on my face and was laughing uncontrollably due to the ticklish feeling from the butterflies who were still flapping their wings in my stomach. Finlay smiled back at me and announced “Now, it is time to try this on the diving board.”

I looked up at the five and ten metre boards above my head and wondered what he had in mind. Fortunately, he would be starting me first on the lowest three metre board. As I looked across the diving pool I noticed a dozen eight year old girls and boys performing beautiful, elegant, strong and confident pike dives, one after another like minnows falling over a waterfall, from my future pedestal. I greatly admired their ability and regretted that I had not started practicing diving at their age.

As I scrambled slowly and carefully onto the diving board from the corner of my eye I noticed that some of the life guards and children had paused to watch me experience my first pike dive. I took a deep breath, imagined that I was Greg Louganis, Tom Daly and Mark Spitz all in one and walked majestically with giant strides to the edge of the board. I then asked Finlay if I should bounce first and he said “On yer go!” once again.

My hands were soon placed in front of me, my knees slightly bent, a bounce of one, two and three and then I landed into the water with a crash, bang wallop before once again experiencing my perfect tumble turn. As I swam to the side of the pool and climbed the ladder feeling triumphant, I noticed that everyone was watching me with wide mouths and big eyes. I turned to Finlay and asked proudly, “Do you have many older men learning to dive?” He turned to his life guard colleague and then they both looked back at me and shook their heads from side to side and in unison said “None as old as you!” Fortunately, they laughed and I joined them as I was still feeling giddy from the tumble turn.

At the end of my first lesson I told Finlay that I was surprised how much I had learned in my first fifty minute session and wondered what he could possibly teach me in lesson number two. Without missing a beat he said “Backward dives from the high board.”

The still fluttering butterflies within my stomach from the tumble turn quickly sank in unison as I looked up at the ten metre board and simultaneously thought, “God help me!”

Whilst I have no fantasy of competing in the next Commonwealth or Olympic Games, I do imagine that one day I shall show my wife, adult children and wee grandchildren that one may still remain green and growing throughout their life. After all, I had an excellent role model sixty – four years ago and I do not want to let him down. When I finally summon the courage to climb the stairs to the high board I shall look down and imagine that Papa is still their with open arms awaiting my safe arrival.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and has been swimming for sixty – four years. He was at one time the slowest member of his youth swim team at the local YMCA and now he is the slowest recreational swimmer at the Royal Commonwealth Pool. He is also currently their oldest diving student.

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