Jim Chambers

Jim Chambers' Story

When I entered Georgia Tech in the fall of 1964, Drownproofing was a required course for all students (men only - at that time GT had 7,000 men and only about 200 women). The school thought so much of Drownproofing that you had to take it and pass it, unless you had a medical exemption, and you had to be almost dead to get one of those. You had to pass the course to graduate. One fellow in my class was doing it for the third time (he passed this time).

I still remember the first day like it was yesterday. There must have been about 25 of us standing around when Robert Nelson, a PT coach, came in. He ordered everyone into the pool and to stay afloat for a certain time, I think it was 15 minutes. Most of us treaded water, and when the looooong 15 minutes was up, most of us grabbed onto the side and were too tired to get out of the pool for several minutes. Of course, men were men, and under that kind of peer pressure, none of us quit - we all went the full 15 minutes. Coach Nelson then told us that many people, even in the best of circumstances, would drown within a few minutes, and he said that after we passed the Drownproofing course, we would be able to survive in the water for hours, even if we were injured. Needless to say, we doubted that, but we had no choice but to try and learn Drownproofing and pass the course.

Coach Nelson, who was a pretty nice guy, explained the principles of Drownproofing and had us start learning it. It took me 3-4 classes to catch on to the technique and rhythm involved, then we started the other things like actually moving through the water. I still have my Drownproofing card. On the back of the card are the things we had to do to pass the course. That is exactly what we had to do, but I tell you that when we saw those requirements, I don't think any of us thought we could pass. But we did. I think only 1-2 fellows dropped out, and we pitied them, since if they stayed in school, they would just have to take the course again.

Fred Lanoue died of a massive heart attack while training Marines at Parris Island only a few months before I took the course. He had a fearsome reputation. I've sometimes regretted not having him as my instructor, and sometimes I thought that I was lucky not to!

When I took the scuba certification course in 1987, our instructor was a real zealot. The very first thing he had us do was get into the pool and swim a quarter of a mile. When he saw me using Drownproofing, he yelled at me to stop using it, saying "That's too easy."

In hindsight, Drownproofing was the most important course I took at Georgia Tech. I went on to get two engineering degrees in civil engineering, but Drownproofing was the only course I had that could save my life. And even after more than 40 years, I know that I could use Drownproofing to survive in the water if I had to.


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Copyright Jim Chambers, 2007.
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