Childhood Memories with Mr. Thompson


Julia Maushardt, Writer

Anyone who has taken a class with Mr. Thompson has heard of his childhood on the Rainbow Valley Ranch. He spent his days tearing open bags of corn to feed the pigs and, accompanied by his dog Star, searching the meadows for birds’ nests with pale blue eggs. And no MC graduate has ever escaped the tragic tale of the two goats, Billy and Annie. Yet, despite the freedom of life in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Thompson never found the time to learn how to swim.

At eight years old, Mr. Thompson, his five siblings, and his parents packed their bags for a move to California. Two weeks before they could settle into their new Marin County house, the family checked into the Bermuda Palms Motel and was delighted to see the cool blue pool situated out back. At last, Mrs. Thompson decided it was time for her children to learn to swim. Bribed with Drumstick ice cream cones, Thomas Thompson and his younger brother, Billy, took lessons from the Olympic swimmer Ann Curtis until the day they left for their rented Villa Real home. However, despite ice cream rewards and the teaching of an Olympic medal winner, Thomas Thompson only managed to master the dog paddle.

It wasn’t until Mr. Thompson’s freshman year at UC Santa Barbara when, in need of a P.E. unit, he reluctantly turned from signing up for fencing (he pictured himself striding out onto the piste, his sword glimmering in the sunlight, the scar across his cheek evidence of courageous past battles) and decided the beginner’s swim course would prove more practical. There, he finally left behind the dog paddle for freestyle, butterfly, and backstrokes. A newly hydrophilic Thomas Thompson signed up for the intermediate swim course his second semester. It was during this time when he first learned to dive.

One day, as he sat out tanning by the Terra Linda public pool with his high school friend and pool lifeguard, Patrick Ball, Mr. Thompson announced his newly acquired skills on the diving board. Impressed, Patrick dared Thompson to display what he’d learned and leap from the high dive―around thirty feet above the water. A reluctant Thomas Thompson eventually gave in, and began his anxious ascent up the ladder (had it not been for the line of little kids behind him, he likely would have turned back). As it’s often said, the high dive seemed much higher from the top than at the bottom. Mr. Thompson suddenly recalled his first attempt at diving in fourth grade, when he fell painfully onto his stomach. Drawing a nervous breath, he counted his steps and watched the blue water ripple below him as he prepared to dive. Suddenly, over the din of the poolside families, he heard a voice over the loudspeaker.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I please have your attention. On the high dive currently stands the Norwegian Olympic swimmer Thomas Thompson. As our special guest, he will now be performing the swan dive.”

Patrick had set him up. Everyone’s eyes were now on the “Norwegian” diver posed above them. Mothers put down their romance novels, teenagers peered up from behind sunglasses, fathers removed their children from their shoulders for a better view. The diving board seemed to have risen a few dozen feet more.

He measured his steps carefully.

He braced himself against the height.

He lept, feet-first, into the cool water below.

And so Thomas Thompson exhibited the most graceful, delicate swan dive of his few minutes as an Olympian.