By Diane Hyzy
“Pull hard two more times and you’ll be there.” These simple words made a huge impact on me.
Recently, I had my fifth-grade students write an essay about someone who has made a positive difference in their life. Sure, there are the obvious choices of a parent or teacher. These individuals have spent hours molding the children in their care. However, what about a fleeting relationship? What about a statement that happened in the blink of an eye, yet had such a lasting impression? I started to think about my own life and who would be on my list.
I was 10 years old and attending a summer day camp through my local school district. This eagerly anticipated two-week period was chock full of fun activities. Although I enjoyed all of it, the thing that I most looked forward to every day was swimming. For this gal who spent countless hours diving off the dock on Lake Chautauqua, swimming was something that I was good at.
The day camp had a system for leveling the young swimmers. Badges. Say this word to anyone in my age range who grew up in the Town of Tonawanda and they know exactly what I am talking about.
Kids coveted these simple felt badges like kids of today probably desired the Pokémon that evaded them from a few summers ago. Each colored badge had a checklist of skills that needed to be mastered before getting the symbol of success. If memory serves me correctly, the order went in succession from orange to green to blue and finally to gold.
Although gold would have to wait another year or two, this particular summer I was after the blue badge. The checklist usually contained swimming strokes, like freestyle or backstroke, and a distance component. Some badges required learning how to dive and how to tread water. The blue badge also had the big kahuna of swimming talent; the dreaded retrieval of the black brick from the bottom of the deep end!
I spent a good portion of those two weeks on that challenging skill. I have strong memories of diving in, getting the brick in sight and then retreating to the surface, frustrated with myself. Walking away from camp with just the green badge would be the proverbial agony of defeat for my 10-year-old self. I had almost given up hope until a chance meeting with Mr. Cianfrini.
Mr. C was a teacher and coach and spent a portion of his summers running the day camp for kids. He was well-liked and fun to be around. It was obvious that Mr. C had seen me struggling with this task, but gave me ample time to try to work it out for myself.
It was soon the last day of camp and time was running out for me to find success with this elusive skill. Toward the end of our swimming session, Mr. C came over to me and said, “You know how you get to a point when you are diving down, where you turn and shoot back to the surface? Next time, pull hard two more times and you’ll be there.”
Before I lost my nerve, I dove in and took his advice, pulling up the mysterious brick from the bottom of the pool.
Mr. C may have been talking about retrieving a brick from the deep end of a pool, but his simple words have resonated with me for 40-plus years. Whenever I am faced with a challenge, I simply think to pull hard two more times and I’ll be there.
Diane Hyzy, a teacher who lives in Kenmore, is proud of her swimming badges.