Elizabeth Ricketson
3 min readOct 21, 2023

--

One Stroke at a Time…

YWCA. The Young Women’s Christian Association. Weekly I would go with my mom. My hero. An older brother and sister at school. Our time.

As an adult, my mother had just learned how to swim. A requirement of my father. He had planned to have a built-in pool installed at our modest family home. A luxury for certain. Yet practical too. We were a single car family living in a small rural town. So, the car, our car was dedicated to my dad. He needed it to commute to and from our family grocery business. Mostly “to” as his work week employed all seven days and countless hours.

Dad wanted us, his three children and the neighborhood kids to have a pool for all to enjoy. Long summer days in the country sans a car kept us quite local. Our mode of transportation was biking and running from neighbor to neighbor and mischief to mischief.

One Monday morning we entered the Y as we normally did. A small waiting area just outside the lady’s changing room was fashioned with soft fabric chairs and a refreshment table. I drank in the familiar fragrances deeply imbedded in my being. Fresh brewed coffee in a large silver urn and white powdered donuts in open carboard containers. Crinkled cellophane. Steam and chlorine vapors seeped into the room. The pool and my goal were just on the other side of the heavy swinging double doors.

My mother had graduated. She now knew how to swim. Ultimately, she would be credited with teaching our neighborhood how to swim. But today it was my turn. Three years old. Young I was. No formal children’s classes offered. I learned to swim with adult women.

We went to the Y often, but this time was different. Lessons had been completed by both my mom and me. Today was test day. Could I swim independently from the small end to the deep? Would I need assistance or stop for breaks?

I had done the work. Disciplined and focused. I loved to swim. Determined that I would not be sequestered in the shallow end of our family pool resolve pulsed through my body. The deep end represented independence. Freedom was just one lap away…

Shiny dulled yellow cinder block walls dripped. Humid and moist. The tranquil and quiet echo of laps being performed calmed me. A meditative reach and pull with every stroke. I quickly moved through the warm heavy air. My small feet inched toward the edge of the aqua blue pool. The paint slippery and smooth under my semi-experienced feet. The stretch of the Olympic length lane before me. Markers with colorful buoys. Burdened by a puffy orange life preserver. Unnecessarily encumbered. I wanted freedom. I could taste it.

Without hesitation I jumped into the small end. Quickly tilting my small body into position for the lap of a lifetime. Slicing through the water with choppy strokes. My head above the chlorine filled water while my little legs kicked like they never had before.

I knew that once I left the shallow end the test would truly begin. No fatiguing or stopping by the edge. This lap must be completed. One shot. One opportunity. Fierce, I needed to be.

My YWCA classmates hovered along the pool’s edge. Lining the right-hand side. Women in one-piece suits. Scoop backed. Mine matched my mother’s. Navy with the illusion of a red and white belt across my lower waste. A plain white rubber bathing cap on my head. The women also sported bathing caps with the ear flaps flipped up. Some adorned with flowers. Bright pink. Orange too.

My effort was certain. Loud cheers propelled me on. My mother’s voice floated across the mist for my ears only. They walked along the pool’s edge in unison with my solo effort. They wanted me to succeed. Each stroke embraced their belief. I felt empowered and supported. I pounded forward. One arm then the next. Soon my small hand would reach for the far wall. I wiped the water from my eyes or possibly tears…

I had done it….

--

--

Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts.