It was something like 4 o’clock on a Thursday morning. I walked to the kitchen and pounded my head on the counter until coffee magically came out of the machine. I looked at the assortment of bags packed on the floor by the front door—my cute Vera Bradley duffel looked funny hanging out with my fins and snorkel. I headed out the door towards the Aquatic Center with bright eyes. Athens, Ohio had been kissed by one of its first frosts of the year, all the more reason to get the heck down to Florida. As we packed up the trailer and everybody put themselves back to bed, I reviewed what had engulfed my stress for the nine weeks prior: OU SCUBA.
“Did you know SCUBA is actually an acronym?”: the only thing I actually knew about it going into the class.
Our first day was like an episode of “1000 Ways to Die”—SCUBA edition. The instructors sat us down and told us anything and everything that could go wrong while we’re diving. Like how your skin could fall off, or how you could get bubbles in your blood and your skin would fall off, or how the bends would make your skin gross right before you died, or how a shark could come up behind you and tear all of your skin off.
Then we signed a release form.
I immediately called my expert diver boyfriend crying. We had planned a big dive trip to the Dutch Caribbean with his family for Christmas break, but I wasn’t about to go near any water after this first class.
Somehow, I managed to make it to the swim test.
And to the next class.
And to the next pool lab.
And I kept going back, learning something new every time, going out of my comfort zone every time.
The next nine weeks of class gave us more information and practice in the pool than any other introductory SCUBA training I’ve ever heard of. We learned a lot of badass techniques that most divers don’t know—like different kinds of dives, swimming to the bottom of the pool and clearing our mask (getting the water out) all in one breath. We learned how to dive down, gear in hand, and put it all on underwater.
The instructors were total characters, but they also helped you keep calm, while pushing you to push yourself. I have never had a professor genuinely care so much about my success in a class.
At the beginning of pool labs, I was struggling getting my ears to clear on my way to the bottom of the pool—if you don’t clear your ears, the pressure builds up, and the pain is unbearable. My instructor brought me solution for swimmer’s ear the next day.
One instructor had me pushing myself harder than I ever had before. He couldn’t believe how horrible I was at holding my breath. (which, was actually quite horrible.)
“Are you an athlete?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m a runner.”
“Then why do you have no lung capacity to hold your breath?”
“Because when you’re running, you’re allowed to keep breathing.”
We figured out my incapacity to hold any air in my lungs was directly correlated to my incapacity to relax longer than a half second. (Picture me underwater: I’m the guy from Accepted who they finally get to meditate when they put him in a straight jacket.)
“Relax,” he’d tell me. Until I practiced just sitting at the bottom of the pool and letting myself forget that I couldn’t breathe, I was very horrible at relaxing.
It’s funny to me how often many people, upon finding out I was taking SCUBA diving, responded so very cynically. “Oh, I would never take that class. I’m too scared.”
The irony of their responses is that my reason for taking SCUBA diving is exactly that. I was scared. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. I wanted to poop my wetsuit.
I wanted to let myself relax.
And I’ll admit, I had to go into the aqua center a couple times outside of class to practice sitting at the bottom of the pool.
It sounds ridiculous, but I got so good, in fact, that the lifeguards were on the edges of their seats, praying they wouldn’t have to come in after me.
The final consisted of a written test and a pool test. And then we had the option to head to Florida for a check out dive to get our certification. (Well, hell yeah I’m going to take an opportunity to be excused from my classes and go to Florida in November.)
If you had told me in August that I would be SCUBA diving through pitch-black caves in just a couple months, I’d have called you a liar.
But there I was, kickin’ it with the manatees.
Taking SCUBA diving at OU isn’t for everyone. But everyone should take a course that scares the skin off of them. Whether you are a macho dude who’s taking Women’s Gender Studies or you’re an arachnophobe taking Spider History (that’s not actually a course), everybody should be pushing themselves beyond that box called comfortable that we like to live in.
My trip to the Caribbean was the greatest of my life. I dove 100 feet underwater to see the remnants of a shipwreck. I swam through beautiful reefs. I got to ask rainbow fish what it was like to star in every child’s favorite book.
I learned more about myself in SCUBA diving than any other class I’ve ever taken in college. And I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t let myself get a little scared.
*This story was published in the opinion section of The Essay Magazine.