In a Tuck
In 1952, my buddy Sammy Myers and I were Buck Sergeants in the Air Force, stationed in Greenville, South Carolina. Our job was repairing airborne radars and flying radio operator on C-82s and C-119s.
Sammy and I enjoyed a friendly competition with each other on a personal level. Compared to him, I was shorter, less obvious, and more talently disadvantaged. But I had the instincts of an adventurer, and he didn’t. Maybe that gave me a slight edge in areas where results could easily be measured.
One such place was The Tower. (I hated that thing with a dedicated cynical fervor.) I don’t even want to remember how high off the water it was, but it was enough high for me. I had jumped off the Leon River Bridge at home a few times so I knew how long the fall time was – it was forever, or at least that thought came to me.
Sammy and I dove off the intermediate level a few times, and jumped off the top a couple. Then he made a nice swan dive from high up that barely broke the surface of the water. I figured he was warming up to do a dive that I didn’t even want to think about. He appeared too nonchalant for my taste.
“Do a ‘show off,’ and I’ll take your picture,” Sam dared from ground. I just stared. The pressure began to build, and it was so terrible my mind went into spacial overload for a few seconds.
While standing on the top, in the #1 position, my entire life flashed before my eyes. Did I dare? I’d done a few 1 ½ forward somersaults from a ten foot springboard, but I didn’t do them very well. Now it was put-up or shut-up time. My smile was a misnomer and I knew the desire in my heart was at odds with reality, but I was drawn to the seductive glamour of Sam’s camera.
With a deep breath and a giant spring, I left the platform in a tuck, which opened too late, and my dive quickly unraveled into an over-rotation that landed me flat on my back. Whatever confidence I had was knocked out of me with a sudden traumatic jolt. The blistering pain was almost visible and my embarrassment rang out in exaggerated decibels.
“Got it,” Sam yelled, “They heard the splash in Memphis! You almost made it, Buddy, try it again. I have one more shot on the roll.”
With all I could muster, there I stood again in the rarefied #1 position. But this time I was mad … mad that he’d ask me to do it again after I’d just maimed myself, and mad because with his street level imagination, he thought I wouldn’t try.
If I’d over-rotated trying to do a 1 ½, what if I stayed in the tuck a little longer and went for a 2 ½. Ha, I’d never even thought of that before, but what a great idea. To forget my previous mistake would be done at my own peril. That was for sure.
And to my great surprise and satisfaction, that’s exactly what happened. The dive was not very pretty, but it was there, and both my body and tattered ego were intact. Sam got the picture, and congratulated me with a pleasant sincerity that felt really good. I never climbed the ladder on that tower again, and I still haven’t.