Peace Corps Writers
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Outward Bound

by Steve Wells (Philippines 1961–64; Philippines Staff 1964–69)


Arriving in Puerto Rico
It all started in December, 1961. We were part of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, pioneers in this new idea called the Peace Corps and we had been invited to serve in the Philippines. But few of us knew what to expect when we stumbled off a Pan Am flight from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico and were trucked off to a rustic jungle wilderness camp near Arecibo.

I WATCHED AS ONE BY ONE the members of my Peace Corps training group attempted to swim 50 meters underwater without surfacing or taking a breath.
     It was a personal challenge we had known about for 24 hours preceding this moment.
     The idea was to jump off the edge of the pool and rotate in the air so we were facing backward when we hit the water. Then we were to turn around in the water, swim the length of the pool and back, keeping our head under water at all times. One slip, that’s it, you failed this test
     My job was to pull my fellow trainees out of the water once they had lost consciousness, a job I was given because I had been a competitive swimmer in college.

  More Peace Corps history:

A Peace Corps Test    

 Establishing the PC   

Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux   

The Marjorie Michelmore Postcard

2/15/62 - PA newspaper doubts future
of Peace Corps

The Real Job of the Peace Corps - a '60s staff member's view

     I was assigned this job by Freddie LaNue, our bombastic “drownproofing” instructor, and a former swimming coach at Georgia Tech. One leg deformed and withered due to childhood polio, Freddie referred to himself as “The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.”
He took the words right out of our mouths.
     It was Freddie’s idea in this the final week of our Outward Bound Peace Corps training in Puerto Rico, to escalate the challenges placed before us, the better to achieve character-building objectives.
    Freddie was completely in character in the Outward Bound camp. He had invented something called drownproofing – a simple method of staying afloat in the water without the usual thrashing of arms and legs, conserving energy and avoiding panic while awaiting rescue.
     Drownproofing was easy enough for me to master after a lifetime of swimming and four years of intercollegiate swimming competition. But for those with a lifelong fear of water, learning drownproofing was the kind of self-achievement that Outward Bound was designed to impart. Along with rock-climbing, camping, trekking and the infamous obstacle course, the idea was to leave each of us with a heightened sense of self-confidence, prepared to take on any challenge that lay before us, just as the British U-boat crews felt in 1941 when they went through the very first Outward Bound training.
     To prepare you for unknown challenges. That was the idea.
     Water was one of these. By the end of our drownproofing session, Freddie the tied legs and arms of each trainee, then pushed them into the water to see if they could stay afloat using the techniques he taught us.
     They did.
     So he simply escalated the challenge several notches.
   
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