From as early as I can remember, I’ve loved to swim. Growing up in Michigan, there were no shortages of lakes around.
One in particular, Littlejohn Lake, was only a few miles down the road from my childhood home and we spent many summers there as kids. Littlejohn is a natural, spring-fed lake which makes the water both clear, and cold except for a few months of the year.
Because we lived on the western side of Michigan, we were able to pick up the powerful television station, WGN, out of Chicago. The great thing about WGN was that they played all the old shows (old for the 70s anyway) and one of my favorites was Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges. Another favorite diving show back then which aired in primetime on national television, was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I got the scuba bug early on from watching those shows!
One of my school friends, Allen, who also caught the diving bug, had a membership to the local community pool just around the corner from our homes. He and I would spend hours, days, and weeks there practicing our snorkeling skills. Not only that, his aunt owned a property right on Littlejohn Lake which was a perfect place to launch from. Allen and I spent nearly every day of the summer there through our Jr. High years snorkeling around the lake hunting fish and whatever else we could find.
When I turned sixteen, I decided to get officially certified as a scuba diver. After traveling forty miles each way to the city several nights a week for half of that summer, I passed the final test. I had traded-in my small motorcycle for some used scuba equipment and was ready to try it out.
My friend Allen and I had talked about doing a night dive for some time and how great that would be at the lake. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to make my first dive a night dive. So, with my new permit, used equipment, wet suit, and cheap underwater light, I headed to Littlejohn Lake one night after sundown to try them out.
I look back at that night and know that I must have had an angel watching over me. I never dove in a lake with scuba gear before and chose a night dive to try it out (my first mistake).
I was sure I was ready and, after wading into the water, flashlight in hand, I began my descent. Within only a few minutes, after descending fifteen to twenty feet, I realized that my air supply was running out already (my second mistake). I had about a quarter of a tank of air to start with and assumed I had enough for a ‘quick dive’.
The water at night, especially more than ten feet down, was pitch black making it impossible to see the surface. As the inability to breathe and panic were setting in, I knew I had to get out immediately but didn't know which way to swim to the surface.
The strangest thing then happened. It was as though a sudden calm came over me and a still small voice spoke in my mind, ‘follow the bubbles’… My light wasn’t nearly as bright as I’d hoped, but there was enough light to see a few bubbles near my mask so I started swimming toward the direction they were floating as quickly as I could. Just as I reached the surface, my air went out completely.
The feeling of relief, fear, and total self-abasement I had as I drug myself out of the water is still vivid in my memory. The realization that I was very close to death that night hit me very hard emotionally. So hard, in fact, that I put the equipment away and never used it again.
All those summers dreaming about being a diver went to the wayside when I realized just how close I had come to death. I eventually sold the equipment to help pay for college, but kept the fins I’d purchased (pictured above) as a sentimental reminder. Who knows, I may need them some day!
Taking risks when we’re young is natural and, thankfully, I had someone watching over me when I made what could have been a life ending risky decision. Would I still love to do some diving today? YES. Would I make the same mistakes? No way! I may never get the chance to dive again, but I'm thankful for those summers spent swimming around the lake and will always have that.
Tonight, I’ll leave you with a clip of one of the Sea Hunt shows. These days, they are all available on YouTube. It’s a fun watch if you have time. Thankfully, I'm still here to enjoy watching it again...