I swam an entire mile in a lake that wasn’t even 60 degrees.
And all for a stupid patch.
Well, a patch and the glory and honor of doing it along with all the other much more fit boys at Scout camp that year.
For years I’d watched the other boys in my troop do everything awesome without me, both in and out of Scouting. As a portly and often friendless boy, I’d sat benched in the dugout at baseball games and sidelined at soccer games. I’d stood outside the group at recess as they kickballed and buttballed and freeze tagged. I had watched them all earning trophies in their various activities and sports over the years. Medals. Badges. Pins. Certificates. Pats on the back. Life was very rewarding for the other boys.
And I guess you could say life was sometimes rewarding for me, too. I mean, I remember about that same time of my life I went to visit my grandpa. I moseyed out of the car. He held his hands out as if to hug me and instead of embracing me, he grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “you’re turning into quite a fat boy.” Then he swatted me on the butt and sent me in the house. I guess that was kind of rewarding. I mean, at least he noticed me.
Haha. Was that facetious and pity-invoking enough?
And so, back to Scout camp, when the opportunity arose to strip down almost naked and jump into a freezing lake to earn a patch that said I’d done something awesome and almost impossible, I made sure I scribbled my name onto the sign-up sheet that was being passed around.
I had been swimming before. I could swim to the other side of the pool back home. And back. No sweat. And, I was a master floater. I could float on my back for hours if I felt the inkling to do so. And it wasn’t because I was fat that I could float. Geez. It was because I had big lungs. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Anyway, there was a lake at this camp. It was exactly 0.25 miles from one side to the other. To earn our patch, we would have to swim to the other side and back, twice. I wasn’t worried. It was just swimming, after all. Not long jumping or running the mile. It was swimming.
The day arrived for our one mile swim. All the boys went down to the lakeside and began stripping their shirts off. I kept mine on as long as possible. My boobs were too fantastic to be flaunting them for those boys.
Then, the large-mustached Scout leader stood in front of all of us and began barking rules and instructions.
There would be people in canoes paddling along side us all along the way in case we got into trouble. We were to immediately yell for help if we felt that we were in danger. There was no time limit. This wasn’t a race. It seemed that he was looking straight at me while he heavily emphasized all of these things. I glared back as if to say, “dude, it’s swimming. What could happen?”
Leaders and life guards piled into canoes and launched into the lake. The mustache-guy blew his whistle and hollered, “okay! Let’s go!”
A steady flow of boys immediately dove into the lake. Screams began howling through the air. “Oh my gosh, it’s so cold!” Every boy had to say it at least once. Most said it like clockwork every fifty feet or so until they finished their mile. After all, the water was beastly cold.
I was in the back of the pack. Just before I jumped into the lake, I pulled my shirt off and tossed it onto the shore. As far as I could tell, only mustache-man saw me do it. Phew.
And, I started swimming.
I was fat. But it was still so effing cold. Immediately it felt as if some over-zealous acupuncturist was jamming needles into me from all sides. “Oh my gosh! It’s so cold!” I yelled. I had to say it too. Those other boys weren’t kidding.
The last canoe stayed with me as I swam. “Don’t worry if you can’t finish,” they said. “There’s nothing wrong with calling it quits if you need to.” That was about fifty feet in.
“I can do this.” I said as I took stroke after stroke. Quickly the rest of the boys had left me behind. Almost as quickly as that, other boys began pushing past me on their way back. I wasn’t even a third of the way to the other side.
“How are you feeling?” the guys in the canoe would ask me every minute or so. “Are you doing okay?” they’d ask me every thirty seconds. I wanted to scream at them to shut up and let me do this.
By the time I made it to the other side of the lake, I was hurting. And they could tell. “You can’t touch down or it doesn’t count,” they told me as I neared the shore. “And that’s okay if you need to.”