No Surprise: Panic Is Suggested As Cause of Triathlon Deaths

How do you teach people to prevent panic? Is it important to you? Do you know how many drownings are caused by panic each year?


In the Washington Post the other day, a headline said, Deaths in triathlons may not be so mysterious: panic attacks may be...


Why, of course they are to blame. A good portion of those participants are scared in deep water and scared in open water. If you can swim and you'd be scared in a triathlon swimming race, that's one thing. But these people can't swim. And they're entered in the race. There's no rule saying you have to be able to swim to do a tri.


You and I and they don't even agree on what "knowing how to swim" means. So, how can we have 100% of participants preparing to be safe in a triathlon?


Can you imagine?


Could this be 2011? Perhaps 2011 B.C.? The aquatics world is that far behind what is known. The public thinks knowing how to swim means that someone can do a stroke, preferably freestyle, from here to there. But the 21st Century definition of swimming says that knowing how to swim means someone is comfortable in deep water. Maybe they can do a formal stroke...or maybe they can only do a make-shift stroke that's comfortable and propulsive.


There's no tri coach saying, "Learn to be at ease in deep water before you take your life into your hands in a triathlon. You need to be in control of yourself all the time." Instead, the message is to downplay fear, suck it up, put mind over matter and muscle through. This is neither universally sound, nor a safe solution. Therefore, people drown in tri's every year. This news is suppressed.

Wake up, Aquatics. Wake up, tri coaches. Wake up, swimming coaches and instructors. I'm shaking you awake. I know you don't like it. I'm sorry.


Aquatics has an immense problem. People are denying it. To solve it and to end drownings, we must teach people how to prevent panic.


I'm not saying the Red Cross, source of traditional swimming lessons for the past 100 years, is a bad institution. I'm not saying the Y or Swim America or all the other Red Cross derivatives are, either. All are great at what they do. Case closed about that. And I call them derivatives because they all start from the same premise: if you are afraid in water, you just need to learn strokes; learning how to swim means learning strokes. That's what these organizations teach. 


But they only work for half the population. What are we doing with the other half? What are YOU doing with the other half? Failing them. This is not a criticism. This is an objective fact.


This is okay, as long as you're doing something about it: educating yourself about what to improve to make the situation right. Start from where you are: it's the perfect place to begin.


If you don't want to teach the other half, make it clear that you only teach swimming to people who are already comfortable in water. Make it easy for those who are not comfortable in water and those who are afraid in water to find a class where they can be successful: a class where they will learn to swim and be happy the whole time. It is most likely not a Red Cross derivative: RC derivatives do not know how to teach panic-prevention.


A dialog between the most robust critics and readers of this blog and me will tease out the course we all must take to end drowning in this country and the world. You're invited to it.

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