In 1958 when I was nine years old my mother
took me to where I thought was the most fun place on earth. Olympic
Park, (1887-1965) was New Jersey’s largest amusement park
that was spread across 40 acres bordering Newark, Irvington and
Maplewood NJ. I remember that it had a circus, bumper cars, a carousel,
a spooky funhouse, a magnificent merry-go-round, and a penny arcade
filled with skillo games and pinball machines. During the summer
months, I really enjoyed riding on a vast number of ten-cent rides
such as the octopus, the twister, the wild mouse, the caterpillar,
a tilt-a-whirl, and the whip to name a few.
The most famous ride was the park’s colossal, wooden roller
coaster. Once, I boldly rode in its front seat to experience the
most thrilling ride of my young life. I will never forget the clanking
sound that I heard, as the coaster car slowly climbed to its highest
peak, and then dropped rapidly. My heart nearly stopped beating,
as it made several spectacular turns at breathtaking speeds. Several
times, I felt like I would be hurled out from my seat, before finally
coming to an abrupt stop.
Olympic Park’s crowning jewel was that it boasted a huge
pool filled with 4 ½ million gallons of artisan well water
enabling it to be proclaimed as the largest pool on the east coast
and possibly in the entire USA. I still have vivid memories of my
first time walking onto its sandy beach. I marveled staring up at
the high diving boards and looking out at the four island platforms
positioned in the deepest section of the pool. I imagined the thrill
it would be for me to one day, dive off from the tallest diving
board, and then swim out to the furthest island. I felt when I could
eventually accomplish this feat; it would confirm my status as a
skilled swimmer. Even more importantly, somewhere deep down inside
of me, I knew it would enhance, not only my self-esteem but my identity
as a self-sufficient young boy.
As I walked toward the pool’s edge, the hot summer sun was
shining brightly into my eyes. The crystal blue water shimmered
and rippled as the sunlight was reflecting off of it. I was bewildered
upon discovering that I wasn’t able to determine the depth
of the water because everything was sparkling so brightly. Pausing
before jumping into the water because I hadn’t yet learned
to swim, I remembered my mother cautioning me to always get help
from a lifeguard if I had any problems. I noticed close by high
up on a chair was a young lifeguard who was talking with a teenage
girl. I attempted to ask him if this was the shallow or deep section
of the pool, but he didn’t respond. I thought this was because
he considered me to be only a little kid who was asking a stupid
question. I reasoned that if this actually was the deep section,
the lifeguard would have instructed me to go to another area to
swim. Consequently, I felt safe believing I was at the shallow water
area, along with the added security of a lifeguard nearby.
So in high spirits, I jumped out as far as I could into the water.
I quickly sank down deep into the water, knowing I was in serious
trouble. I held my breath, as I frantically began kicking my feet.
This helped me to rise to the surface. Gasping for a gulp of air,
I shouted, “Help” before quickly sinking again. My hopes
of seeing the lifeguard who was supposed to be saving me was sinking
even faster. I was frightened and keenly aware that I could die.
Ironically, memories of my father teaching me not to give up no
matter what happens flashed through my mind. In desperation, I kept
swinging my arms and kicking my feet to ascend to the surface, even
though I kept sinking back down over and over again. Gradually,
these flailing motions made it possible for me to maneuver close
enough to grab the edge of the pool. Although I was completely out
of breath, I felt very happy to be safe and alive. As I pulled myself
up out of the water, I saw that the lifeguard was still talking
with the girl. To my astonishment, he hadn’t even noticed
Although, I was disappointed that the lifeguard didn’t do
his job, I wasn’t mad at him. I actually felt it was my fate
because God wanted to give me an opportunity to learn and benefit
from a valuable lesson in life. I was acutely aware that I was nearly
killed, because I trusted and relied upon someone with my precious
life in the balance. I promised myself that I would be watchful
to prevent this from ever happening again. I made up my mind that
I would always be proactive to protect my own safety and never rely
on anyone entirely. I also felt proud that I saved myself from sure
death, by swimming to the best of my limited ability instead of
giving up and sinking.
The courage and perseverance I demonstrated on that summer day,
as a young boy, made a lasting positive influence upon me. It helped
to enhance my self-confidence enabling me to embark on new challenging
endeavors throughout my journeys in life. Eventually, I became an
excellent swimmer, even competing in numerous triathlons. I continue
to appreciate the recreational and health benefits of swimming.
Most importantly, I continue to strive to become the best that I
can be while being grateful every day for the precious gift of life.