I was fours old and my mom took me outside to ride my tricycle in the warm summer evening. The common area of our apartment complex was the only place free of cars and with enough open space for a four year old to master the difficult task of turning his tricycle around without dismounting. The apartment swimming pool was several yards away, and the door to the gate was left open by some teenagers who were engaging in horseplay around the pool. As I got better maneuvering my three-wheeled beauty that evening, I decided I would attempt to thread-the-needle by rapidly peddling my tricycle through the open gate, around the pool and back out, all without stopping. After successfully making it through the gate, I was half -way around the pool when one of the teenagers, unaware of my presence, backed into me with enough force to send me careening toward the edge of the pool. Out of control, my tricycle and I flew into the pool’s deep end. In just a few seconds I was at the bottom. The teenagers, unable to swim themselves, looked on panic stricken as my mom rushed over, jumped into the water fully clothed, and pulled me to safety. To this day I can remember standing at the side of the pool next to my equally drenched mother, staring at my purple tricycle resting at the pool bottom. Lucky for me, my mom was nearby during my peril and rescued me. Thankfully, I was enrolled in swim lessons the next week and by the following summer knew how to swim capably.
Sadly, for every story like mine, there are countless that end in tragedy. In the summer of 2010, six Louisiana teens drowned in the Red River. The youths, ages 13 to 18 years old, gathered with their families near the river for an afternoon barbecue. With the temperature reaching 100 degrees, some of the children sought relief from the heat by wading into the water. None of them knew how to swim. One child waded out too deep and disappeared beneath the water when the river bed dropped some 25 feet. Another youth tried to save him and soon found himself in trouble as well. One by one, each child attempted to save the other until all seven were struggling for their lives in the water. A bystander who knew how to swim jumped in and rescued one teenager, but the rest tragically drowned. None of the adult family members on the shore knew how to swim, and could only watch in horror as one by one each child slipped beneath the water for the last time, never to be seen again alive.
As a lawyer, I have had the misfortune of meeting families who have lost a child to a drowning accident. One particular case involved a mother who took her 3 children, all under the age of 12 years, on camping trip. The families camp site was around 25 yards from a small stream. One morning the mother was getting her children ready to go down to the camp swimming pool. Her youngest, a 6 year old, was near her side as she readied the older children. When she finished brushing the hair of one of the older children she turned to do the same to her 6 year old, but he was nowhere to be found. A search by authorities eventually located the boy’s body in the stream almost a mile away, resting against a water flow grate.
It is a troubling fact that nearly four thousand Americans drown each year. The American Institute of Preventive Medicine reports that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States among children under 14, and the leading cause of death for children age 5 and under. Each day, drowning claims the lives of almost three children between the ages of 1 and 19. A child can drown in the time it takes to answer a telephone. An adult looking away from a child near water for even a short time, such as to carry on a conversation or to brush another child’s hair, is long enough for a child to drown.
Drowning, however, is largely preventable, and the best protection for children is teaching them to swim. A National Institute of Health study found that participating in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88 percent reduction in the risk of drowning in children between ages 1 and 4. USA swimming estimates that the average beginners swimming program costs around $100 for 16 lessons, the minimum number necessary to show real progress. While this amount may present an obstacle for low-income families, the return is well worth the investment. At a minimum, they will learn enough to save their own lives, maybe even the life of another. At the same time, they will learn an activity they can enjoy for a lifetime. Swimming is not only great entertainment, but an unparalleled form of low impact exercise that works all major areas of the body.
As a parent I have often looked back on that summer evening on my tricycle and shudder at the thought of what could have happened if only my mom was not nearby or was unable to swim herself. For this reason, I have chosen to enroll each of my children in formal swim lessons by age 4, the age at which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children start swimming lessons. I am proud that each of my children have become accomplished swimmers and even swim competitively on organized swim teams in the Joplin, Missouri area. I find comfort knowing that my children have the skills to save themselves if an accident were to happen and they were knocked into a swimming pool, or were to wade out into Beaver Lake in Arkansas over their heads. Teaching your child to swim is just as important as making them wear seatbelts and bicycle helmets. You never know when an accident may happen, but if one does, you want your child to be protected. Swimming provides that protection when they are near or in water.
Johnson, Vorhees & Martucci
510 West 6th Street
Joplin, Missouri 64801
866-836-0100 toll free