Alva James-Johnson: Sink or swim

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comJune 12, 2014 

I think it goes back to a fear of swimming that developed when I was about 6 years old.

I was visiting relatives in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, when my uncle, in an effort to teach me how to swim, just tossed me into the ocean. He figured I would sink or swim. And, obviously, I chose the latter because the next thing I knew, I was sinking under the deep blue waters as I struggled to survive.

I love my uncle, but I never did get over that little incident.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy going to beaches and swimming pools. I find water very relaxing and therapeutic. I've even taught myself to swim a little over the years. I just don't go further than I can stand.

My daughters are pretty good swimmers, thank goodness. I made sure they learned when we lived in South Florida. Canals and pools were ubiquitous there and knowing how to swim wasn't an option.

But since they can swim, I still don't expect to see my girls whitewater rafting. They tried it once when we were at a family reunion a few years ago, and the experience didn't turn out well.

The girls had been reluctant to go, but their cousins convinced them it would be fun.

"You won't fall in the water," they promised.

And off the girls went with their father, who assured me he would bring them back unharmed.

But when they returned to the hotel, I could immediately tell something went wrong.

My husband, who looked a little shell-shocked, proceeded to tell me that they had fallen in the water, and at one point he thought he had lost one of the girls. He had panicked for about six seconds, then found her trapped under the raft.

"It was the longest six seconds of my life," he said.

The girls were also a little shaken from that ordeal. And at that moment, I could tell whitewater rafting wasn't going to be a regular family activity.

But living in Columbus, where the sport is becoming so popular, one can't help but be drawn to the Chattahoochee River where there's so much action. Last summer, my family and I went down to the river on a few occasions, and we enjoyed watching the rafts toss and turn on the raging rapids. There were a few tumbles, but for the most part, everyone looked like they were having fun. I thought, "Good for them!"

It's pretty cool living in a city that knows how to maximize its resources. The river is a great tourist attraction, and I'm already encouraging relatives to come and check out whitewater rafting in our new hometown.

I won't join them if they accept my offer, of course. But I'll definitely cheer them on.

Alva James-Johnson, reporter, ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com.

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