Swimming Blind–Esther Williams anybody?

One of my childhood heroes has died at the age of 91–Esther Williams. Hoping to compete in the 1940 Olympics in various swimming categories, she was disappointed when the U.S. decided to cancel participation in the ’40 Olympics. She had to “settle” for a movie career in Hollywood.
At the age of four I had learned to swim. “I’m going to teach you to breathe in water,” my Dad told me. “Put your face in and blow out a breath.”
I rolled my face in and out, exhaling into Greenwood Lake, a sandy-bottomed, trout-filled body of water in northeastern Pennsylvania. The memory of “getting” it and paddling out to the raft beside my father is still vivid.
Later, in the 50s, I discovered Esther Williams, performing water ballet with romantic leads and string accompaniment. From then on I wanted to be a water ballet star, leaping from a diving board with the toes of my right foot pointing to my left knee, arms gracefully above my head.
In high school I got my chance. In our club I had the longest legs, so involuntarily, I made the shorter girls hold their breath longer as we linked together, feet to chin, in chain back dolphins. Fortunately in college our water ballet club had other tall members, so my pointed toes didn’t tower over the others, and I wasn’t the only one torturing the short girls in our back dolphins.
Of course, Esther’s hair never flattened to her head, and I only swam once with a movie-star-looking guy in one of our spring performances. But I can still pull off ballet legs and other stunts.
Swimming has always enriched my life, but it became indispensable since becoming blind. After learning the major skills to function independently, I asked myself what recreation I could enjoy. So many sports, like tennis and volleyball, required sight or required a sighted person, as in tandem biking or kayaking.
But swimming, I could do that—in roped-off lanes and now with a rope tied to my wrist, as my husband rows across Greenwood Lake. In the pool at Chatham University, I swim as many laps as I’m old. Secret—that’s over a mile. And my final kick-lap ends with—you guessed it—several ballet legs—my tribute to Esther.

About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s