|A SWIM LESSON
by Maria Judnick
His large, strong hands gripped the top of my skull.
I could feel him pushing harder and harder down on my
body as I kicked and flailed and fought against him in the
deep end of the pool. I’d need to surface again and soon.
I was fifteen years old and at my last day of lifeguard
training. I’d passed all the written exams, demonstrated
every skill of CPR and First Aid (I’d been certified since
seventh grade), and—thanks to eight years on a swim
team—aced the swim test on my first try.
The only obstacle that remained was the active drowning
victim scenario. The other members of my small class
were either boys or older or both. No one else was a
blonde, five-foot-two inch, one-hundred-and-twelve
pound girl. My teacher, local swim legend Coach Finn,
was not tall but—even in his early 50s—still built of lean,
He’d barely challenged the others in their practice
rescues, confident that the boys, like my six-foot-tall
friend Bobby, could overpower any victim anxiously
clawing at him as he dragged them to safety.
I would not be so lucky.
All week Mr. Finn had been warning me that my test
would be especially tough as he paced around the
classroom in his short red gym shorts. “Female guards
have it harder,” he’d said. “You’ll need to do whatever it
takes to first save yourself…and then your victim. It’s
stupid to have two people drown.”
And, so, there I was, lungs bursting, head spinning, his
words “whatever it takes” echoing in my brain.
What was a girl to do?
I kicked him—never mind where and never mind how
hard. All that mattered was that he released me
immediately. I shot to the surface, grateful to be filling my
“Smart girl,” he wheezed, “Just try not to get sued.”
I started work a week later with the highest
recommendation from Mr. Finn.
Maria Judnick is a writer and educator who lives in the San
Francisco Bay Area. She blogs periodically for KQED Pop! and is
currently finishing her first novel.