A matter of life and death: Swim safety message renewed

Five-year-old Audrey Portello was playing with her little sister Ava, 3, on the dock at a small, but deep man-made lake. Her parents, aunt and uncle were chatting about 30 feet away. It was a typical spring family outing at the rural Colusa County ranch — miles from cell phone service and emergency services.

Suddenly, the peaceful quiet was broken by the sound of a splash. Audrey had fallen off the dock into the water.

“As we all ran to the dock, we watched Audrey surface, roll onto her back and take a couple breaths. She then calmly began to kick and paddle toward the dock,” said mom Cammie Portello. “She was doing what she’d been practicing every week at her SwimAmerica swim lessons: Jump in, roll over and float!”

Audrey emerged wet, but uninjured, that day. However, drowning remains the second leading cause of unintended injury-related death of children under 14 and a leading cause of death for children ages 1-5.

Research shows participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children ages 1 to 4, yet many kids do not receive formal swimming or water safety training.

“Stories like Audrey’s are frighteningly common in early spring — and unfortunately, don’t always have a happy ending,” said Rose Cholewinski, program director and owner of SwimAmerica Davis. “Audrey was lucky her parents knew the value of year-round lessons. When kids swim only in the summer, their skills get rusty at the beginning of swim season, and that’s when tragedy can strike.”

SwimAmerica Davis advocates the Safer 3 Swim for Life program, a multi-layered educational effort focused on the three primary areas of water safety: safer water, safer kids and safer response.

“Safer water” focuses on using fencing, gate latches, alarms and other safety equipment around pools and boats. “Safer kids” stresses the importance of having constant responsible adult supervision around the water and year-round swim lessons.

“Safer response” addresses the importance of learning CPR, first aid and other rescue and emergency response techniques, as well as having a phone by the pool at all times.

For more information about Safer 3, go to www.swimforlife.org/programs-services/safer3.html.

“Parents wouldn’t think of driving a car with a child not buckled in a car seat,” Cholewinski said. “Parents should have the same vigilance — if not more — around a pool or lake. Children shouldn’t go near water without knowing how to swim and proper supervision.”

One child safety statistic from “Freakonomics” — a 2005 book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner — helps put pool dangers in perspective.

“In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of 10 drown each year.),” the authors say.

“Meanwhile, there is one child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under 10 die each year from guns.)

“The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn’t even close.”

Added Cholewinski, “Swim lessons save lives. That’s why SwimAmerica is participating in the World’s Largest Swim Lesson for the third year in a row to promote the importance of water safety.”

On Thursday, June 14, at 8 am, swimmers around the world will simultaneously participate in a 30-minute swim lesson to set a Guinness record for the world’s largest swim lesson.

The inaugural event in 2010 established the record for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson ever conducted to build awareness about the vital importance of teaching children to swim to prevent drowning. Last year’s event grew more than 400 percent, with 20,000-plus participants representing 13 countries around the globe and 45 states in the United States, Cholewinski said.

The event at SwimAmerica, 2121 Second St., Suite A101, will feature a visit from Davis City Councilman Dan Wolk and representatives from the UC Davis Fire Department. Participants will enjoy breakfast and receive a free T-shirt.

The world’s largest swim lesson program works to promote drowning prevention by focusing the energy of thousands of participants on a clear and specific message all at the same time. Aquatic facilities, from Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon near Orlando, Fla., to swim schools in Orange County, Calif., to parks and recreation centers in the Bronx, to locations in Mexico, Brazil, Dubai and Lebanon have all participated in the event.

For more information on this event, contact Cholewinski at (530) 759-1214 or [email protected], or visit swimamericadavis.com or wlsl.org.

Special to The Enterprise

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