What To Do RE: Six Teenagers Drown in Louisiana River

Last night or over the weekend, a teenager stepped off a ledge into deep water at the Red River in Shreveport, LA. In the next few minutes, 6 of his friends tried to save him. All drowned but one. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38533071/ns/us_news-life .

The article leaves an unknowing reader thinking that deep water is dangerous; that a sinkhole full of water is dangerous. I beg to differ. The distinction to be made means the difference between life and death.

People who think they can swim when they can't are dangerous. People who teach that swimming means stroking to shallow water are, well, dangerous too. People who don't understand what "knowing how to swim" means can be found everywhere. It's quite likely that some of those who drowned would have said they can swim. This is what people believe "out there." And in your neighborhood.

There needs to be a widely accepted definition of "I can swim." And the definition should be: "I can rely on myself for my safety in deep water as long as I need to, or at least for an hour or two."

If you're an instructor who is teaching people to stroke to the side of the pool and get out, if you're letting parents think their kids can swim before they've rested and paddled around in deep water for 10-15 minutes, please stop today.

At the same time, if you work for a municipality, I urge you to not relent from pressuring the swimming programs run by your town to teach people how the water works and how to prevent panic. These are the only things people need to know. Forget about strokes for now. Those are extra and they come after the basics. First we need to get every single citizen to be able to swim. Swim first, strokes later!

A comprehensive program in how to teach this is available and saves lives.
An article about the learn-to-swim class was in the Sunday Sarasota Herald Tribune August 1.

This is not an ad. It's a public service. This information should be available everywhere.

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Comment by Melon Dash on August 18, 2010 at 5:23am
So much truth is written in the comments below. But there's still a problem. No, two.

Laurie, thank you. Few people understand what you've said about Miracle Swimming because they haven't SEEN it.

Mary Ann, I agree with you about the Safer3.

Tukz, your statements are also true as I see them.

However, there are 2 points still being missed. Laurie knows them. If the Red Cross and the Y are teaching "swimming lessons," and "swimming" to them means strokes, then people who take swimming lessons from Red Cross and Y are not necessarily going to learn to swim. And many don't. They are going to learn to stroke. And the difference between stroking and swimming is often life and death. This is why the Red Cross and the Y need to make a sea change in their approach to lessons. Both organizations are synonymous with swimming lessons. When ppl think "learn to swim" they think Y and Red Cross. However, neither organization has any idea what I'm talking about. And this is why we have such a large drowning problem at all. Oh, a few people do. We have two Red Cross Instructor Trainers among our Miracle Swimming-trained instructors. They both agree that all Red Cross and Y teachers should be Miracle Swimming-trained.

Secondly, too much emphasis is placed on kids learning to swim instead of adults! This is unfounded and uninformed. Why is the Red Cross and Y not helping the 70 percent of drowning victims yearly: teaching adults to swim??

Both organizations will say, "We give adult lessons, but no one comes. Or, they quit."
I'm sorry, but neither organization gives consistent mass lessons that truly "work." Of course they'll say, "Yes, we do." But you really must compare what good swimming lessons are and what Red Cross and Y adult lessons are. We at Miracle Swimming give adult lessons and no one quits, no one fails, no one misses classes, every student is ecstatic, and people pay a lot in comparison to Y and Red Cross lessons. The contrast between ours and theirs is so stark, you'd look at it and have to conclude, "OMG. Red Cross and Y adult swimming lessons cause drownings!" And you'd have very good justification for this conclusion.

I know this is a powerful statement. To some it will sound outrageous. I trust you not to take it out of context. But I challenge you to examine closely what I'm saying. Compare the 3 programs. You will change your mind. You'll be forever changed. You will never teach swimming lessons the same way again. And swimming lessons will move into the 21st Century.

I know drowning can end as a major loss of life. This is my goal. At Miracle Swimming, we know exactly how to get this done. It's not a pie-in-the-sky idea. It will need the Safer3. But it cannot happen without Miracle Swimming, the only technology that teaches the ppl who Red Cross and the Y cannot reach: those adults and kids who are truly afraid: a huge, huge population.

Tukz, come and learn our program. Everyone, come learn it. At least watch it! All future drowning victims need you to do this so you'll understand, and you'll do something in your town to truly turn swimming lessons around.
Comment by Laurie Batter on August 16, 2010 at 10:00am
Sitting on the outside of this as I do not have a vested interest in any one of these organizations, all of what is being said is great dialogue. I think what is not being heard, perhaps, is that there are statistics that show that for a large portion of the population, traditional approaches by learn to swim programs have not always worked - because they are not able to address the fear. Thus, programs such as Miracle Swimming from Conquer Fear, have a proven method. It would be great if that program were offered along side traditional methods for those who need a different approach.
Comment by Mary Ann Downing on August 16, 2010 at 9:50am
And please add to the message..Reach and Throw, Don't Go! And please add "Wear a Lifejacket"... Yes, everyone should learn to swim. I love the SAFER3 model of water safety message from the Swim for Life Foundation, it's 3 pronged with a focus on Safer Kids (swim skills and safety skills), Safer Water (Fencing, Signs, Barriers, Alarms, available rescue equipment) and Safer Response (learn rescue skills - Reach and Throw- and learn CPR!) give the complete message each time...Drowning IS preventable.
Comment by Tukz Taaca on August 5, 2010 at 10:56pm
In light of this tragedy, we all have our opinions on who is to blame and what should be done about it. Is it the parents of those teens? Is it the county government? Is it the environment they live in? Is it the teens themselves? Everyone has made great points, but some clarifications have to be made:

1. "Red Cross, YMCA where are you?" - Commodore Longfellow started it in the early 1900's and eventually worked with the American Red Cross because he recognized the need for water safety because of the number of drownings back then. As does today's American Red Cross. American Red Cross is one of the leading organizations providing swim lessons and water safety today. Also, the YMCA has been teaching swim lessons for over 100 years. My Y has seen the "color" differences in the water and is doing something about it. While in summer camp, everyone is swim tested and levels of necklaces: Red, Yellow, or Green are given. Each child gets a designated necklace and may only swim in designated areas. If any child during camp is a Red or Yellow necklace, we automatically give them swim lessons. Hopefully, by the end of camp they are swimming better than the first day of arrival. Our initiative is Go for Green (necklace). Since we are speaking of only these two organizations, they have lead the charge in providing swim lessons for a many number of years. So are many other people and organizations.

2. "Inner city....wealthy suburbs" - Not all inner city is poor and not all suburbs are wealthy. We need to be careful how we catergorize those living environments and its people. What about populations in rural areas or small towns? Drownings happen there too.

There's two things that haven't been mentioned: Opportunity and Culture. Opportunity - now more than ever swimming overall is on a stage never seen before: Summer Olympics, World Waterpark Association hosting The World's Largest Swim Lesson, Outreach for example from USA Swimming called Make-A-Splash, Jacksonville, Florida First Coast Kids Triathlon - the largest in the country, the explosion of Water Parks and Water Playgrounds, TV, and the internet. If this opportunity is everywhere then why are there still drownings? Well, why are their still car crashes and falls and injuries. Because they are going to happen. We can have all this opportunity, but if a person or group of people do not use or accept those opportunities. Something is going to happen. And it did badly. Culture - only in the past decade have we seen minorities in the water being recognized by other minorities in the U.S. because of media exposure. Ok, I'm not talking about Duke Kahanamoku in the 1912, '20, '24 Olympics, but an African-American Swimmer named Cullen Jones. Remember, Cullen who swam in the 2008 Summer Olympics with Michael, Jason, and Garrett in the 4x100? Everyone, I mean everyone was out of their chairs screaming for the Americans! Who was part of that team? Cullen. Someone they can identify with. Minorities, especially African-Americans can relate to and know where they came from. Cullen and the rest of the Olympians have done a great job promoting swimming - everywhere. The number of people wanting to swim after the Olympics is unprecented. That's culture. They created a culture that says if you work hard and work hard for your teammates you'll be successful - in the water. I'm not talking about getting medals. Swimming is part of cultural mainstream and its a popular and acceptable activity.

We can go on and on about what should have been done to prevent this. Let's focus on all the good things that have been done already and in the future, while preventing (as much as possible) the not so good things.
Comment by Melon Dash on August 4, 2010 at 5:53pm
I agree with each of those ideas.

RE: "what to do, if lack of funding is shutting down the very pools that can teach the children to swim so we can reduce the drowning," we need to show government officials that the reason pools do not pay for themselves is BECAUSE people cannot swim. If they could, every family in the community would be supporting those pools. But the parents can't swim and the kids do what the parents do. Sure, the parents may have sent the kids to lessons. But then it stops, rather than becoming a weekly family activity.

If we let adults know it's okay and very commonplace that they can't swim and that they need not be embarrassed or ashamed, and THEN if we gave them a class that met them where they are instead of the classes they've already tried and quit many times over, we could show them, as I've shown 4000 adults, that there's a way for every single adult (and child) to be successful in swimming lessons.

Then, parents who could swim would take their kids to the community pool, both to practice for themselves and let the kids play. What cheaper family recreation is there than $20 for an afternoon or evening of swimming? Not much. And a family that plays together stays together.

What I'm saying is that the problem is with SWIMMING LESSONS. They do not work for half the population. And that half, even if they could access the lessons, cannot succeed in them. As I said, many already tried.

Red Cross, YMCA, where are you? This is your chance to shine, to ask, "What can we do to help? And we have an answer I believe you'd love.
Comment by Laurie Batter on August 4, 2010 at 2:51pm
Yes yes yes, my mantra is we need to position our industry as one that provides vital fitness, wellness, whether it is a swimming pool or a hot tub. You are right on that it will take a major mindshift. We also need to be sure that our facilities are healthy and safe or we will not be able to grow the number of swimming experiences. We are doing some of this in pockets.
Comment by Beverly M. Payton on August 4, 2010 at 10:20am
We need to change the collective mindset that regards swimming pools as mere luxury items and expensive toys (the root of the VP's remarks) to one that sees them as vital fitness facilities appropriate for all ages and income levels. Moreover, I believe having well-run, safe aquatic facilities, swimming lessons and encouraging participation in youth aquatic athletic events is way more cost-effective in keeping inner-city youth interested and engaged in the summer than hiring additional police to intervene when idleness and boredome lead them down dark paths.
Comment by Laurie Batter on August 4, 2010 at 9:51am
I completely agree with all three of you. For years I've been a proponent of every person a swimmer, yet we still aren't there. We've got to get momentum from the top to make this a school requirement. Yet, Bev, what to do, if lack of funding is shutting down the very pools that can teach the children to swim so we can reduce the drowning. It doesn't help when our vice president says that no dollars will go to building/repairing pools. We need to help these people understand that swimming should not be a choice, it is like you said a crucial life skill. We don't send our troops off without learning how to swim.
Comment by Beverly M. Payton on August 3, 2010 at 5:18pm
You are absolutely right Mellon. I can't imagine the horror those families endured watching helplessley as children they loved drowned. And Gary is spot on, this tragedy should serve as a cold bucket of water in the face of inner city school administrators and government officials where children do not have the same access to swimming lessons as do children in wealthy suburbs. It's remarkable that none of the adults present were proficient swimmers either. Swimming is a crucial life skill that ALL children should know. It's time to make swimming an essential part of the school curricullum and for cities to conduct swim tests and lessons in all municipal swimming pools.
Comment by Gary Thill on August 3, 2010 at 3:54pm
Great blog Melon! Should give aquatic pros a lot to think about in regards to what it really means to know how to swim. It's also a sad reminder how deadly the swimming gap is between minorities and non-minorities.

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