by Steve Wells (Philippines 196164; Philippines Staff 196469)
Arriving in Puerto Rico
|It all started in December, 1961. We were part of John F. Kennedys 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.
|More Peace Corps history:
|| 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 Freddies 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.
So he simply escalated the challenge several notches.