From USASwimming.org, By: Mike Gustafson:
In my sophomore year of college, I visited Argentina. It was a fairly large town, located 50 steps away from the ocean. That old adage “stone’s throw” proved true here, as you could literally glance out your hotel window and throw a stone into the ocean. In this coastal town, I assumed that everyone was a natural-born swimmer. That swimming would be infused into locals’ DNA, like snowshoeing in Sweden, or grits in the Carolinas, or surfing in Huntington Beach.
I was wrong.
Quite a few locals had little swimming ability. They could jump in waves, sure. But some couldn’t swim adequately, or tread water, or complete a freestyle stroke. The town itself had 100,000 people, situated along a stretch of land that bordered the Atlantic Ocean. “Learning to swim” was confined either in the Ocean, or in a tiny, 6-lane pool at the town’s epicenter.
Even growing old a stone’s throw away from the Ocean isn’t a guarantee that a person will one day learn to swim. That realization was relatively shocking, but proved true.
So, on May 15, 2012, swim people:
Mark. Your. Calendars.
The International Learn To Swim Day takes place more than eight months from now. Swim professionals (which probably includes 99% of people reading this article) are encouraged to teach a swim lesson, water safety course, or even just spread the word. Since many readers are current or former USA Swimming members living abroad, this day is particularly geared for you.
Don’t think so? Think swim safety is just a “problem” rather than an epidemic? Try these statistics on for size. (via InternationalWaterSafetyDay.org)
-In 2004, almost 400,000 people died from drowning.
-96% of these drownings come from low/middle-income nations
-Africans experience eight times the drowning rates of Americans or Australians
-In China, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in kids ages 1-14
Sure, the International Water Safety Day is over eight months away. But the Olympics start in 324 days; look how much press it gets. Imagine if a fraction of that attention was diverted toward water safety. Imagine if the readers of this article who lived abroad, in places like China, African nations, India, or Indonesia organized and participated with the similar ferociousness that’s given toward the Olympics.
What can you do? How can you help? Want to be involved?
One particular website has a plan. DiversityInAquatics.org urges “aquatic professionals, competitive swimmers, master swimmers, scuba divers, water polo players, recreational swimmers, and boaters” to hold a water safety event or classroom lesson. The event is held on a weekday in order to increase school participation. So if you are a teacher, you can help put this together as well.
With over 1000 people drowning daily (via WHO) throughout the world, this is a problem that cannot be ignored any longer. Even in the United States, you cannot assume that just because you live in a beach town or coastal community that children, teenagers, and adults in your neighborhoods know how to swim. Many do not. (I read a statistic the other day that stated nearly 35-50% of adults cannot adequately swim.)
To us, swimming comes easy. It’s as simple as dipping toes in the water, pulling down with arms, turning your head and breathing, flipping, and repeating. It’s as easy (for us) as riding a bike.
But as I think about my experience in Argentina, I wonder how simple it would have been to offer one or two water safety courses. To teach a few people how to float, how to tread water. It would have taken an afternoon. Maybe it would have saved a life.
One doesn’t have to travel to Argentina to participate on May 15th. Call a local school and find out what programs are being offered. If there are none, offer one. Or call a local swim coach and see if he or she would be willing to give a water safety event. Or urge a local swim club to host a day of water safety lessons, free to the public.
During this time of hurricanes, rip tides, coastal drowning, and flash-floods, awareness and preparedness can be the difference between life and death. Make people aware of May 15th, 2012.
And prepare now.