Friday, March 1, 2013

How Not To Do PT (part 4)

At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence.  We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.

Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.

Swimming.  Heh.  Hell, yes, I took Plebe Swimming.  It was the most awfully mis-named class at West Point.

Quasi-organized drowning, they should'a called it.

I mean, I was a swimmer.  That was my sport.  Some people run around football fields in tight pants, some try to kick round balls into rectangular nets, and others try to hit little round balls with long wooden sticks.  I pitted my muscles, my coordination, and my stamina against that of others as we fiercely raced against the clock and against each other.

That's swimming.

The West Point Plebe Swimming class, on the other hand, mostly involved water-based exercises performed while wearing a brick-filled harness and combat fatigues.  Usually we couldn't swim out of the problem, according to the description of the problem; instead, we had to take the battle dress off, tie knots in various parts of it, and make the knotty stuff into floatation devices.  All while holding our breath and trying not to drown.

It wasn't all floaty clothing, though.  There was also the "bob and travel."  The theory was that you were stuck in a situation where you had to get to somewhere on the other side of a body of water but you couldn't just swim to it, so they taught us to sink to the bottom of the pool, push up at an angle, and then from there bob straight down again, come back up at an angle, and so on.  Rinse (thoroughly), and repeat. 

Yeah, I used that stuff in all sorts of training exercises later on in the Army.  Or...not.

We were graded on stuff like whether or not we could successfully lie down on the bottom of the pool.  Hey, that's tougher than it sounds.  The air in your lungs that you're holding in so as not to die is quite buoyant, you see.   In order to lie down on the bottom of the pool you have to calmly expel every ounce of air you can and then wait for your body to slowly settle onto the cement, all while following the immortal advice of the great Douglas Adams: Don't Panic! 

It's not fun at all.

One of the most-publicized activities in the swimming class--again, not a swimming activity--was the ten meter jump.  On jump day, we all put on our partial battle dress and climbed up the rail ladder onto the ten meter tower.  The exercise started with us walking to the edge and signaling our readiness.  Upon seeing our signal, the not-swimming instructor would yell "jump!"  Then, well, we'd jump (betcha didn't see that coming).  It wasn't a normal jump, though; it was more of a single courageous step forward and off of the platform, after which (and hopefully before hitting the water, at least if you wanted a good grade) we were supposed to cross our legs (so that we didn't get water jackhammered up into our heehaws), cross one arm in front of our chest, and use the other hand to shield our face (so that we didn't get water jackhammered--well, you get it).

Apparently that pose works from nearly any height to prevent Death By Hitting Water.  Unless you're falling from too high, that is, in which case you're probably going to break something regardless of what you cross over where.

Lest I make too much light of it, I must add that it was a rather scary event.  Ten meters doesn't sound like all that much when you're swimming ten times that in a hundred meter race.  It doesn't sound like much when you're used to three and five mile runs.  It doesn't sound like that much when you think that a meter is just a bit longer than a yard, and football field lines are ten of those apart (which is a quite short distance unless you have eleven 300-pound guys who'd rather mold the shape of your face into the astroturf than let you run it, all standing there).  It's an entirely different length from the viewpoint of the tower, though.  Tippy-toes on the edge, looking down at the pool, it's enough to make you wonder if you'll hit terminal velocity on the way down.

On a related note, we had a classmate who was famous.  She was also uber-cool.  She was famous specifically as a nationally-ranked diving champion from high school.  I still don't remember why I thought that was so incredible, having spent most of my high school years thinking that the divers were the people who wanted to hang out at the pool but didn't have the fortitude to swim.  Still, she was cool.

The ten meter platform was to her like fried okra is to me.  Many others may say eww, but the only days I haven't enjoyed it are those where it's not available.  She thought it--the ten meter platform, not fried okra--was rather boring and commonplace, in fact.

That's why, when the instructor told her to "jump!", she did it up one better.  Hell, she did it up way better.  She turned over into a handstand and then vaulted out, doing a triple gerspinnenflippen on her way down to a perfect water entry, battle dress uniform and all.

Ah.  Maze.  Zing.

We thought amazing, anyway.  The professors?  They didn't think so.  Apparently she got in trouble for her persnickety individualism in performing a dangerous stunt for the crude entertainment of her undisciplined classmate voyeurs.  She almost got sent home for it, from what I heard.

Yeah.  Lesson learned, then: no matter how boring it may be, when the guy in charge says jump, you just jump.  No triple gerspinnenflippens unless they're needed, okay?

And--yay!  It's Friday!



  1. i thought swimming the length of the pool with boots on and an M14 was harder than the other stuff, butit al suced - something about being in water over your head. Ward

  2. Yup the side stoke while holding the M14 over the water was fun. NOT. I almost drowned trying to do that. And, u forgot to mention that we had the choice of not jumping, if u wanted to get sent back home ipso now. Cisco