Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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This is the first "war story" I tell in a pool session while training undergraduate college students in scuba diving. It is done after some comments  (to give the students some hint at the mind-set of their instructor) about The Primitive Brain   This story is told on the second session (The first pool session is swim evaluations. So, in-water training really begins at the second pool session. This allows students time to acquire mask, fins, snorkel and thermal protection, as well as to obtain the required medical clearance from the University Health Center) I heard this story sometime in the late 70's at a stress and performance seminar. I have never validated this story to be a real event. But, it is a powerful story, remembered by students and makes a very important point. I believe that such an event could occur. While I tell this story, I slowly move my left hand, repeatedly, from my  right clavicle to my left mid-chest.

A young man, about your age, was very excited to be learning to sky dive. Because he was athletically gifted and quite intelligent, he often felt the need to jump ahead of his peers in classes  'cause his natural gifts made anything physical appear second nature. So, he skipped a couple of static jumps and went early into free-fall training. 

On his first free-fall jump, his friends watched, horrified, as his chute did not open. He plummeted straight into the ground and died on impact. (Here I hold my left hand straight-out in front of me and loudly slap it with my right hand.) When the rescuers got to his body, they found that he had clawed through his jump suit down to the bone. It is hypothesized that he missed the rip cord on his first attempt to release his chute. In his undoubtedly ever more frantic, repeated attempts to pull the ripcord, his left hand had clawed through his jump suit, and had cut a trough in his skin down to the bone.

You see, he was left handed (here I mimic pulling the ripcord with my right hand) and his parachute had been designed such that the rip cord would be pulled with the right hand.

The Points are:

1. Humans, under stress, in a new situation often go into unproductive, repetitive behaviors. 

2. Often these behaviors are not successful in solving the perceived life-threat. 

3. You are about to engage in training that puts you into a world you cannot breathe. As a land dwelling creature, your instincts may not always be appropriate. 

4. So, over the next 13 pool sessions, you will be learning more than a few in-water skills; you will be modifying your land-dwelling-most-human behavior to develop new instincts and reflexes that are appropriate for the underwater world  in which you have chosen to play. 

5. This cannot be accomplished with single-trial learning. 

6.So, I am warning you ahead of time that many skills will be repeated, again and again and then some more! We do this so that the stressful situations THAT WILL OCCUR to you at some future time while you are submerged playing in Planet Ocean become a mere inconvenience, as opposed to a life threat.


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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 200 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

  Copyright 2001-2024  by Larry "Harris" Taylor

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These articles may be used for not-for-profit diving education