I’m ready to jump into the new year. Just like I did more than 30 years ago, when I jumped into the icy cold pool to take my swim test when I was a freshman at Cornell University.

I was reminded of this jump when I was reading an article in the Education Section of the New York Times last week. The article was about schools that still require swim tests for graduation. According to the article, one of the earliest schools to require swim tests was Cornell. Cornell’s aquatics director said that, “In 1918, the women’s phys ed director decided it was part of a complete education for a nice young women to know how to swim.”

“Jump in,” said the gym teacher as I stood in my black Speedo bathing suit, “Jump in.”

“Can I sit down and slide in?” I said timidly as I looked at the water that was much deeper than 5 feet 3 inches. I was afraid of jumping in and going under water.

“No,” said the gym teacher, “You must jump to pass the test. And you must swim 75 yards, one lap on your chest, one on your back, and a third any style.” (The same requirement still stands today.)

“What if I don’t jump in?” I said softly as I held up one foot and dipped it into the pool.

“You will have to take swimming as a gym course,” said the gym teacher.

“Is that ALL semester in the winter too?” I replied as I bent over to examine the water one more time. I remember I had my Speedo cap on too, so as not to get my hair wet. I looked like an Olympic swimmer, but I sure didn’t feel like one.

“Yep, ALL semester,” said the gym teacher, “That’s September, October, November, and December.”

“What if I sit down and I plop into the pool and then do my laps?” I asked nicely.

“Nope,” said the gym teacher as she started to get angry. “Just jump.” There were many more nice girls behind me who had to take the swim test and the gym teacher was getting ready to fail me.

I didn’t want to fail. Not me. I was not going to fail.

“Okay,okay, just give me a few more seconds,” I replied almost in tears (It really didn’t matter if I cried, my face was going to get all wet anyway.)

I remember looking at the water again. I remember being really scared. I remember thinking that if I didn’t take the plunge at that very moment, I was going to have to make not just one plunge, but four months worth of plunges into icy cold water in a chlorine-filled pool every week in September, October, November and December of 1975 in order to graduate. And I didn’t want to do that.

I bowed my head. I closed my eyes. I stretched my arms up and I jumped. My head went under the water and then my head popped out of the water. I swam my three laps and I passed my swim test.

After all these years, I was pleased to learn from the New York Times that I was not alone in my fears. In fact, today a 10-page thread at college-confidential.com records student anxiety on the topic of swim tests. And, at Cornell, 20 to 25 students fail the swim test each year. Perhaps, each of these nice girls and nice boys also have a fear of jumping in deep water.

Tomorrow is my 52nd birthday. It’s the start of a whole new year in my life after 50. My yoga teacher N said that yogis make affirmations for the new year, not resolutions.

I wanted to know more about affirmations so I looked up the word in my hard cover Webster’s New World Dictionary. I used the dictionary that my high school friend K gave me on August 23, 1975, before I left for college.

Dear J,

This is to save you a few trips to the library. Best of Luck!

With love,


According to Webster’s, “an affirmation is something affirmed; a positive declaration.”

The LiveStrong.com website says that self-affirmations are “Success prophecies that, when visualized, imagined or believed in, do come true. They can take the shape of:

– ‘I am’ statements that are positive affirmations of a real state of being that exists in you. You can achieve a full list of ‘I am’ statements by taking a personal positive inventory of your attributes, strengths, talents and competencies.

– ‘I can’ statements that are statements of your potential. This is a positive affirmation of your ability to accomplish goals. It is a statement of your belief in your power to grow, to change, and to help yourself.

– ‘I will’ statements that are statements of positive change in your life. This is a positive affirmation of a change you want to achieve.

– The daily use of these ‘I’ statements is another form of self-affirmation designed to counter negative self-concept.

It’s 2010. Tomorrow is my 52nd birthday. I am talented. I can swim. I can take risks. I can swim. I can change. Not only can I swim, but I can go under water and pop right back up. I will jump into the new year and face my fears courageously. Yes, I will because just like I did more than 30 years ago when I jumped into that icy cold pool, I will not fail.

Happy Birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to me.