Swim instructor: drowning signs are subtle

Swimming Safety (Source: WAFB)
Swimming Safety (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's hard to miss the emotion in the voice of long time swim coach Nan Fontenot as she talks to kids about the importance of knowing how to swim.

"Thursday, a little boy drowned. That's why we have you here. We don't want you to be like that. We want you to be safe," Fontenot told the group of about 100.

According to medical experts, drowning is the second lead cause of accidental injury death in kids and young teens.

"We not only try to teach the children, but inform the parents about the things they can do to make the child safe in the water," said Fontenot who is also the swimming lessons director for Crawfish Aquatics in Baton Rouge.

Today's lessons at Crawfish Aquatics are for a group especially at risk for drowning: inner-city youth who often do not have access to pools or instructors.  Thanks to several local foundations including Rocketkidz Foundation, these kids can learn the basics that could one day save a life.

"Even just one drowning is just too many. It's really important in Louisiana as well because of our water sports here," said Crawfish Aquatics owner Jan Ripple.

One of the newest groups involved is the Reach Back Foundation, started by former LSU basketball standout and Celtic forward Brandon Bass.  Though he may dominate on the court, Bass is relatively new to the water.

"I'm still in the process of learning [to swim,]" said the 6-foot-8 athlete.  "I was brought to the attention of inspiring kids in Boston, and I thought 'Why not? I don't even know how to swim.'"

Bass decided to take his last name to heart, and took swimming lessons for the first time last year.  He then decided to inspire kids in his home town.  Instructors say he sets a good example for any adult that lacks important swimming skills.

"We're always amazed at older and older children that come and have never even been in a pool much less know how to swim and those are the ones that are at highest risk," said Fontenot.

Instructors also work to educate parents on the signs of drowning.  Many people imagine a drowning event to involve someone splashing and crying for help.  In reality, Fontenot says a drowning is much more subtle.

She describes it as being quiet, with the victim usually sinking vertically in the water.  She says often, it happens right by the side of a pool because victims become too panicked to grab the wall.

Her advice to parents is for adults to divide shifts while watching kids in the water. That way fresh eyes are always watching, and parents have a chance to move around.

Fontenot also urges everyone to take swimming lessons, saying you are never too old to learn.

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