When it comes to time spent in or around the water, there are plenty of ways to enjoy. Even then, for some of us, we choose to stay clear of getting wet while others spend most of their time in the water. In any situation, there is one thing we should all probably know how to do.
With summer break, individuals will choose to spend more time cooling off in or around the water. Where pools and beaches can be considered a hallmark of the summer season, a great emphasis for safety around water can also be seen. Especially with Lake Nona’s abundance of pools and Nona Adventure Park, such safety is critical.
YMCAs across Central Florida hosted their Safety Around Water Week May 28-31. In its fifth consecutive year of this initiative, seven YMCAs participated. They offered free, introductory water safety and drowning‐prevention lessons to children from four to 12 years of age, according to a press release.
In six Florida counties, including Orange County’s Lake Nona YMCA, the aim of these lessons is part of a nationwide effort to combat childhood drowning. In multiple years, Florida has been the top state with the most fatal drownings in children, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. As one way to combat this cause of death, the month of May was National Drowning Awareness Month.
“Teaching children how to be safe in and around water is not a luxury; it is a necessity, especially here in Central Florida. Every parent and child deserves to feel confident and safe in and around the water,” said Rowdy Gaines in the press release.
Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, currently serves as vice president of YMCA Aquatics in Central Florida. His experiences with the statistics behind those who cannot swim have motivated him to encourage swim lessons and water safety.
The initiative in Central Florida began in 2014, and, according to Gaines, the whole initiative was put together based on multiple reasons. The week is hosted in May as it “makes the most sense,” with waters being warmer and summer right around the corner. Additionally, the University of Memphis with the USA Swimming Foundation has released reports revealing the data and factors behind swimming participation and competence. In their 2017 report, 49.4 percent of all children, defined as ages four to 18, reported a no to low swimming ability.
Parents who have lost a child to this unfortunate cause have become proponents for raising more awareness. In general, water‐safety awareness is both for children and adults to become more familiar with. Gaines mentioned that 80 percent of drownings happen when an adult has been near or around that child. It can take as little as 30 seconds for a child to drown. He further said that while accidents happen, there is always a reason to make an effort to know and do more.
“Just sit at the dinner table and look your child in the eye. Ask yourself, ‘What’s 30 minutes of my day just to help my child out?’, especially for a child in Florida,” Gaines mentioned.
Since the initiative began, there have been more than 2,500 kids who the organization has been able to reach in Central Florida. According to Gaines, they are seeing the trend that is reducing childhood deaths caused by drowning. Even if the trend is reducing the rate only by two percentage points, that is well worth it.
The YMCA of Central Florida is not the only organization to have such initiatives. Gaines mentioned that if you simply search on the Internet, you’ll have a large variety of options that can best fit your circumstances. In Florida, “water is a way of life and it’s everything to us,” he said. For that reason, he doesn’t see becoming safer around water as optional.
It is key to know how to be a better swimmer, according to Gaines. When the awareness week and month ended, that doesn’t mean it’s all over. In fact, even after the age of 12, it’s not too late. Gaines recalled that it wasn’t until he was 17 and a junior in high school that he started competitive swimming.
Based on his personal experience, though not the only reason, he knows it’s never too late to learn. Swimming is similar to riding a bicycle. Once you learn how to do it, it’s virtually impossible to forget.
“The first and most important thing is four words: Swim lessons save lives. It’s a gift you’ll have for the rest of your life,” Gaines said.