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    Posted May 26, 2014 by
    Vero Beach, Florida
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    First Person: Your essays

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    Water Safety: The Lesson that's a Lifesaver


    Memorial Day signals the start of summer. It is also a vigilant reminder that water safety is paramount. Learning to swim, like literacy, often occurs when parents prioritize its value for their children.

    My favorite part of any triathlon is the swim. It doesn’t matter if it is a lake or an ocean; I know that I have the skill and the stamina to travel the distance. I admit that I am always nervous about some aspect of the race. However, when I hit that water, with each stroke, kick and pull, I feel energized and unstoppable.


    Recently, I was in a local race. The ocean was rough. The lifeguards were plenty and the participants were nervous. In my normal fashion, I stayed away from the pack until I made it past the first buoy. As I hit a rhythm, I began to hear a woman screaming for her life, “HELP! I am drowning!” My heart was pounding, not from my swimming, but out of compassion.


    The wind was fierce. Other triathletes were yelling for the lifeguard’s assistance. In my best Mid-Western trucker voice, I let out a loud roar. As I could see the guard making his way, I tried to speak calmly to her. Her head and shoulders were above the water. I knew that she was paralyzed by panic but she was not drowning. In seconds, the lifeguard reached her and I took off.
    I resumed my swim. But I could not stop thinking of what I should have done. I knew from my junior water safety training that asking her to grab my arm was a recipe for disaster. Panicked swimmers will take you down.
    I recalled my Girl Scout water badge training. I knew that an assist with a floatation device was optimal. The only thing I possessed my skintight kit. My voice was really all I had to give.


    Growing up in Ohio my parents were obsessed with water safety. They keenly identified the potential dangers of being near streams, ponds, and lakes. We learned to swim at an early age. In addition, we were all drilled about the importance of wearing life jackets. I don’t think they were paranoid. However, they shared plenty of stories about children drowning when no one was watching.


    I guess that was what puzzled me. Based on my own experiences, I had always thought that drowning was a silent event. Four years ago I found a child floating face down in a county pool. I was holding my own son and thought he looked too young (and in diapers) to be in the deep end and clinging to a pool rope. I flipped the little one over. He was breathing and screaming. My heart was pounding so hard my ears hurt.


    In a panic, I climbed out of the pool. The little guy continued to cry. I asked, “Where is your Mama or Daddy?” As I turned to follow his tiny pointing figure, I was confronted. I froze and tried to utter what had happened. To my horror, the woman yelled, “He was JUST fine!”


    All I could think was, “Wow!” I didn’t want her gratitude. I just thought it might have been a defining moment, one that might have made her think. How could she have been sunbathing, on the opposite side of the pool, and left her child unattended and at risk?


    I have never forgotten that day. It impacted my efforts to teach our son to swim. My point is this - summer is here. Take the time to learn to swim. Become educated about basic water safety.


    Remember that you may not plan on swimming; but if you unexpectedly fell into a body of water, could you save yourself?


    And, last but not least, thank a lifeguard; they may save you or someone you love.

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