Edinburgh's Royal Commonwealth Pool: Why I've just become its oldest diving student at the age of 68 – Professor Joe Goldblatt
When I asked my father why late in life he decided to “go on line” he looked at me in shock and horror, then said: “I want to be able to communicate with my grandchildren. This is how their generation shall communicate in the future.”
When I told him that I preferred the personal hand-written notes he and mama had written me in college, he turned to me waving his finger and said: “You are old fashioned!”
He then explained that one must never allow one’s knowledge to ripen because once that happens rot shall soon follow. He ended my argument about old versus new by simply stating: “In order to grow, you must remain green throughout your entire life.”
Perhaps this is why, at the age of 68, I told my wife that I fancied learning to dive. I recalled that when I was a wee lad of four my father, a former professional life guard, took my sister and I to a large outdoor swimming pool and begin teaching us to swim. His idea of teaching was literally and figuratively through sudden immersion.
Papa gently led me onto the three-metre diving board and told me to sit upon the end. Then he dove into the deep end and called upon me to roll off the board into his strong arms. I immediately followed his invitation and still recall the thrill of that first tiny splash into his secure arms that held me high as together we paddled to the side of the pool.
I recently signed up for a private one-on-one diving lesson at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, thinking that learning to dive with an expert would be a safe, secure and confident way to put my ten toes back in the water.
After my first jump, the teacher announced: “Well done! Next time, bend the knees a little further and then when you jump in, arch slightly forward a wee bit.” With these simple instructions, I soon found myself improving every time I jumped into the water.
My next skill, a pike jump, required that I placed my hands together in front of my upper torso and spring from the side of the pool landing hands first in the water. What happened next may only be described as an psychedelic experience.
I uncontrollaby went into a full tumble turn. As the inertia of the turn took control of my body, I found my internal organs announcing “Help! This was not supposed to happen at our age!”
Emerging from the water, I had a huge grin on my face and was laughing uncontrollably due to the ticklish feeling from the butterflies who were still flapping their wings in my stomach. Finlay smiled back at me and announced “Now, it is time to try this on the diving board.”
I looked up at the five and ten-metre boards above my head and wondered what he had in mind. Fortunately, he would be starting me first on the three-metre board. As I looked across the diving pool, I noticed a dozen eight-year-old girls and boys performing beautiful, elegant, strong and confident pike dives, one after another like minnows falling over a waterfall, from my future pedestal. I greatly admired their ability and regretted I had not started practising diving at their age.
As I scrambled slowly and carefully onto the diving board, I noticed that some of the life guards and children had paused to watch me experience my first pike dive. I took a deep breath, imagined that I was Greg Louganis, Tom Daly and Mark Spitz all in one, and walked majestically with giant strides to the edge of the board. I then asked Finlay if I should bounce first and he said “On yer go!” once again.
I soon noticed that everyone was watching me with wide mouths and big eyes. I turned to Finlay and asked proudly, “Do you have many older men learning to dive?” He and his colleagues shook their heads from side to side and in unison said, “None as old as you!” Fortunately, they laughed and I joined them as I was still feeling giddy from the tumble turn.
At the end of my first lesson, I asked my teacher what he could possibly teach me in lesson number two. Without missing a beat he said, “Backward dives from the high board.”
The still-fluttering butterflies within my stomach quickly sank in unison as I looked up at the ten-metre board and thought, “God help me!”
Whilst I have no fantasy of competing in the future, I do imagine that one day I shall show my wife, adult children and wee grandchildren that one may still remain green and growing throughout life.
After all, I had an excellent role model 64 years ago and I do not want to let him down. When I finally summon the courage to climb the stairs to the high board, I shall look down and imagine that Papa is still their with open arms awaiting my safe arrival. I suppose at any age, it is good to try and dive, with confidence, in at the deep end occasionally. It might become a true joy of life.
Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and has been swimming for 64 years. He was at one time the slowest member of his youth swim team at the local YMCA and now he is the slowest recreational swimmer at the Royal Commonwealth Pool. He is also currently their oldest diving student. He is the author of his memoir, The True Joy of Life which may be found at www.joegoldblatt.scot.