Thursday, October 28, 2010

Head First

Charles Lindbergh was in Sweden, the year after he flew across the Atlantic.  It was cold and raining and for reasons I forget, he was giving a speech on a dock jutting into Stockholm's icy harbor.

After his speech and after the applause died down, a voice in the crowd said, "I bet you 500 Kroner."

The crowd turned to watch a powerful young man, probably a dock worker stride forward.  "I'll bet you 500 kroner I can swim in that water longer than you" the man said.

The Swedish officials told Lindbergh to ignore the man.  Some crank.  Not important. Nobody cares.  No upside.  Risk to your reputation. Besides the water is lethally cold this time of year.

Lindbergh said, no,no, he'd take the bet.

The man stripped down to his shorts, climbed down the dock's ladder and into the icy water.  After a little over a minute and fifteen seconds, he was climbing up the ladder, blue and shivering, shaking himself like a dog.  "You match that," the man taunted.

Lindberg stripped down to his shorts and dove off the end of the dock.  He swam out into the bay for a short distance and, taking his time, swam back.  When he climbed out, he had been in the water for a little over two minutes.  Lindbergh took the man's money.  "Let that be a lesson to you," Lindbergh said.  "If you are going to do something, do it head first."

I'm not sure of the details of that story, the size of the bet or the length of the swim, or even if it was in Stockholm.  But it's a true story.  I came across it when I was working on 50th anniversary celebration of Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic.  It was in a newspaper clipping in The Explorer's Club Lindbergh scrap book.

It's the story I kept telling myself the year I wrote my first novel. "Do it head first."

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