Panic in the Deep End

by S. J. Heron
Florida, USA

I grew up in the 50’s in a midwestern suburb. Summers were idyllic, but there was little to do except ride bikes, swing on the swings, or play dolls. Our parents were rather protective and didn’t allow us to wander far from home. We were often bored.

When the YMCA opened a facility in our neighborhood, we kids were thrilled. All the families joined. A gym, a trampoline, a swimming pool, and all within an area approved by our parents.

A group of us around the same age, between 10 and 14, were most intrigued with the swimming pool. All of my friends and I signed up for swimming lessons and spent as much time as possible in that pool. We felt very safe there; usually one of our parents was present, often sitting in the lounge chairs nearby, and a lifeguard was always present.

One of my best friends was rather timid and not a particularly good swimmer, but she loved that pool. We stayed in the shallower end for hours daily, often in water up to our necks. We played games, bounced up and down, and horsed around.

Panic in the Deep EndOne day the pool was more crowded than usual at our end and we edged into deeper water. I was confident at greater depths, having mastered basic swimming, but my friend didn’t like even getting her face wet and had never passed the rudimentary course. We kept close to the side, hanging on with one hand as we moved.
Suddenly we were deeper than we intended and my friend panicked. She lost contact with the pool edge and grabbed me around the neck. In an effort to get her face out of the water she pushed me down and away from the edge. I struggled to surface, but she kept pushing me down, unaware that she was close to drowning me.

Throughout this she didn’t call for help, which would have brought the lifeguard, and I couldn’t get my head above water to shout. It just looked like we were playing around. I was sure we were going to die, within yards of our parents.

Suddenly I felt myself being pulled to the surface by one of the swimmers nearby. He hauled us both up, asking, “Are you two all right?” He then brought us to the pool edge and we crawled out.

I never knew who he was and hadn’t the presence of mind to even thank him. After recovering from the traumatic experience, I felt guilty for having allowed my friend and myself to get into such a situation.

She and I never spoke of it, nor did we tell our parents, for fear of losing our pool privileges. No one but the three of us was aware that anything untoward had happened.

I’m not sure that I was aware then of how close we really came to a tragedy, prevented by his intervention. I send a very belated and heartfelt thank you to our mystery man.

Originally published as HeroicStories #842 on January 2, 2012


9 thoughts on “Panic in the Deep End”

  1. People who are drowning often don’t call out, or often show any signs (to the untrained eye) of drowning. Mario Vittone, a retired Coast Guard rescue swimmer and expert in the field of water safety, has a great article, “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning,” that should be read by anybody who goes near any body of water:

  2. Something similar happened to me in the 1970s when I was about 7 years old. We were swimming in a man-made lake in Central Massachusetts. I was the one who could not swim well and my friend encouraged me to hold onto her shoulders as we waded out over our heads. I thought because she was older, bigger and a good swimmer that she knew what she was doing. She wasn’t strong enough to support both of us, and we went under. She panicked and used me as leverage to get her head above water. Thankfully, she was able to scream. Oddly enough, neither the lifeguard nor the other swimmers came to our aid, most likely because they thought we were just playing around.

    Our heroine was a stranger sitting next to my mother on the shore. My mom had frozen in fear but this woman just jumped up, dove in, and grabbed both my friend and I and pulled us out. After everyone had calmed down, my mother went to thank the woman but didn’t get her name. I wish I knew, because I would thank her again.

  3. What a remarkable story! I’d say they had an angel with them that day! This happens far too often and not always with such a miraculous ending. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope your “angel” find’s it and reads it.

  4. I do not understand why these two friends “never spoke of it,” between themselves. Why did the non-swimmer not realize that she needed to take more lessons and learn to be safe in the water, so this would never happen again?

  5. TO ALL SWIMMERS: If someone grabs you in a panic , DO THIS:. Take a breath, while tucking in your chin, and SINK UNDERWATER which is NOT where the other wants to be…..I guarantee the other’s grip will loosen, as he/she struggles to go UP. You must then push the other’s body OUT and UP. Be sure to surface out of reach, then yell for help.

    NEVER touch or try to help someone in trouble in the water, UNLESS YOU HAVE HAD TRAINING AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO. THE FIRST RULE OF LIFE SAVING IS TO SAVE YOURSELF not have 2 drown.


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