From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

Swimming on a Goat

Energy and persistence conquer all things.

Benjamin Franklin

Eva knew she would have to swim on the goat again. The thought made her want to turn her bicycle around and head home, but she didn’t. She kept pedaling along the river’s edge toward Mr. Kovar’s house for her swimming lesson.

Eva’s town had no public pools. The university had a pool, but it was only for special swim teams. Eva had seen the pool when her older brothers had been on the school swim team, and she longed to swim in its shimmering blue water.

But for now, Eva and the other students had to learn to swim by lying on a piece of plywood nailed on a sawhorse. Eva thought it looked like a goat.

When she reached Mr. Kovar’s house, he was waiting for her. He wore his usual frown.

“Front crawl. One hundred strokes,” he said.

Eva climbed onto the sawhorse and lay on her stomach.

Mr. Kovar walked in a circle around Eva as she practiced her strokes.

“Fingers together and point your toes,” he said as he motioned with his wooden pointer. If one of Eva’s arms or legs began to lag, he tapped the lazy limb. “A swimmer does not slap the water,” he said, tapping her arm. “A swimmer slices the water. A swimmer is precise.”

Eva wanted to remind him there was no water, but she didn’t.

Next he tapped her head. “You will breathe only when you turn your head.”

Eva peeked at Mr. Kovar when she turned her head. He scowled as he watched every finger, every toe, and every muscle. Would she ever be able to please him?

“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight,” he counted, never losing track.

Week after week, Mr. Kovar counted and tapped, tapped and counted.

Eva decided to try and think of things that would make her lessons fun. One week, she imagined she was swimming across the ocean with dolphins. The next week, she pretended she was shipwrecked and had to swim to the rescue boat.

She also kept track of how many times Mr. Kovar tapped her. Each week, she tried to break her record for fewest taps.

One day, Mr. Kovar said, “You are ready to swim in the water.”

Eva smiled. “The university pool!”

Mr. Kovar frowned. “You cannot swim in the pool unless you are on a team. You cannot be on a team unless you pass my class. And I cannot pass you until I see you swim in the water. You must swim in the river.”

“The river?” Eva gasped. “Is it safe?”

The river was cold, muddy, and smelled like a garbage bin. No one swam in that river unless it was by accident.

“It is safe if you are a good swimmer,” said her teacher. “And if you take a long bath afterward.”

On the day of the swim, Eva and her mother met Mr. Kovar at the river. When Mr. Kovar gave the signal, Eva rushed into the brown water. The chill almost took her breath away, but it also made her move quickly.

This was nothing like swimming on the goat. And yet, her muscles knew exactly what to do. She remembered the strokes she had learned in her lessons. She pulled with her hands. She kicked with her feet. She turned her head to breathe. Without practicing so many hours on the goat, she never would have been strong enough to swim in the river.

Eva felt strong and swift, like a dolphin. And for the first time, the strokes made sense. She moved faster when her fingers were together. Her kick felt stronger when she pointed her toes. Her strokes had more power when she did what she had been taught to do.

Mr. Kovar motioned for Eva to swim back to shore. He was smiling!

Mom wrapped Eva in a towel. Eva’s teeth chattered.

Mr. Kovar clasped his hands behind his back and looked down at Eva. “You would be surprised how many of my students quit. They hate swimming on the sawhorse.”

You mean the old goat, Eva thought as she tried to look surprised.

“They do?”

“Yes, but not you,” Mr. Kovar said. “You have done very well. I will speak to the coach, and you’ll practice with the swim team next week . . . at the university pool.”

Eva’s wide smile made her teeth chatter more loudly. But she didn’t mind.

Lana Krumwiede

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