I Believe in Swimming

Sep 4, 2015

Essayist Bethany Gruskin.
Credit Erin Cassidy Hendrick / WPSU

How did you learn to swim?  Were you like a fish taking to water or, like me, dramatic?  Was it easy or did it take a lot of practice? For me, it did. As you can probably guess, learning to swim was quite a trial.

When I was three, my mom decided it was time for me to start swimming. With eagerness, I walked to the pool’s edge and, while my mom’s back was turned, I jumped right in.  Not surprisingly, I sank like a rock. I still remember how I floundered around trying to get back to the surface.  Luckily, the lifeguard was able to grab me.  For a long time, that experience scared me. But after practicing hard, and often, I eventually became a decent swimmer.  But that wouldn’t be the last time my fear of drowning affected me.

When I arrived at Penn State as a cocky college freshman, those fears came bubbling to the surface. In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond.  At Penn State, I realized I was a tiny fish in a very large pool.  Almost immediately, I started to drown and that old fear was staring me in the face. Between a heavy course load, extracurricular activities, making new friendships, and touches of home sickness, things did not go well.  I needed a change. One of the things I did was drop a major class, Chem 110. That helped me stay afloat, but then my scheduling for the next Chem classes was thrown out of whack. Another thing that helped, was joining Student Red Cross Club, which helped me making friends that had similar values to me.  That semester reminded me of when I was three.  I was clearly drowning.  But this time there didn’t seem to be a lifeguard around. 

So when I started the spring semester, I forced myself to clear my mind. I began to understand how to excel in college.  It wasn’t easy, but I made a strict system for myself, like review sessions, study groups and repetitive individual practice.  It worked.  I re-took Chem 110 and passed.  I also continued to be active in Student Red Cross Club, which continues to serve as both an extracurricular activity and source of friends.  But I wouldn’t say I had learned to swim.  But I would say that I learned how to float. But now I know I don’t need a lifeguard, I can save myself just fine.

With each new course, I will become a stronger swimmer. My mom is right; swimming is a skill everyone should learn.  I believe in swimming and working hard to be successful.

Bethany Gruskin is a junior at Penn State University Park and is majoring in Biobehavioral Health.

How did you stay afloat during a stressful time? Write an essay and tell us what you believe in at WPSU.org/believe.