In order to be allowed out the the diving raft at this local beach (while the lifeguards are on duty) you have to pass a swim test: back and forth across the width of the swimming area without stopping. The catch is that you have to do this using a forward stroke. I am a fairly strong swimmer, but only with variations on the backstroke. I can do that for hours, but the front-facing strokes wind me quickly. I never took swimming lessons, so my mostly self-taught technique is what works for me, but maybe not the most efficient.

The summer of 2011, I tried to pass the test and failed miserably. I was frustrated and felt rather humiliated that I wasn’t allowed try the test with a backstroke or to swim out to the raft. I vowed that by the next summer, I’d be able to do it, and hit the gym.

Most of my gym swimming involved laps of backstroke in the warm-water pool (mostly at night, when there weren’t other swimmers splashing around). However, once my goal was set I made ever 3rd lap a side stroke (which qualified for the test, since you are able to look forward). It wasn’t easy, and I never did get good at leading with my left hand, but I eventually was able to do laps with that stroke without major difficulty. (I won’t say I did them with ease, but I didn’t want to die by the end.)

Summer of 2012, I was ready. The first chance I had after the raft went out, I headed to the beach. Passing the test was still a challenge: the lake had far more waves with which to contend than the pool, but I got it done. Delightfully, once I passed the test, I was allowed to swim out to the raft any way I wanted to. (The next challenge was getting myself to jump off the diving board, but I managed that before the day was done.)

I had to pass the test each day that I went swimming there and wanted to go to the raft (the lifeguards can’t keep track of who they have seen before) but it was less of a problem than it was before. I knew I could do it, and I kept doing it.