THE SWIMMERS


Click image to view. Escape to exit.

My neighbor's son was known for swimming great distances, sometimes through treacherous bodies of water, but not as part of organized swim competitions; it was an obsessed personal challenge. When he saw a broad harbor, a turbulent stream, a chilled creek, he became set on crossing it, and these challenges had always ended successfully, until he made an error. Having swam the breadth of the Inner Harbor amid boat traffic and other obstacles, having crossed the Little Falls Branch rapids just above the Potomac tidal basin a week after spring warmth had melted a winter's worth of snow, he planned to simply swim a quarter mile downstream in a trickle of rivulet in the city park near our neighborhood and then swim another quarter mile back upstream. He invited a young boy of ten—also from the neighborhood—to swim with him, expecting the boy would reject his challenge as everyone always did, and opt to stand on the bank and cheer him on. There was a group of spectators gathered, who were all surprised and excited when the young boy accepted the offer and dove right into the water, and, with my neighbor's son, the great swimmer, watching nervously from the bank, the boy swam effortlessly downstream until he was out of sight. The onlookers cheered for the boy and laughed at the accomplished swimmer standing half naked and dry beside the water. Without warning he himself dove into the rivulet and swam after the boy, who had yet to come back into sight. My neighbor's son understood that the second upstream leg of the swim was the real challenge. Several minutes later, the boy did reappear, swimming vigorously, arriving safely at his destination. But my neighbor's son did not return, because, as the boy explained, he was taken under by the upstream current and seemed to lack the strength to pull himself up from under it. The question that we cannot answer is why the unproven young boy could successfully swim the same course that took the life of the accomplished swimmer who had completed several much more difficult challenges.