When one North Carolina Swimming coach went to the meet recently, he didn’t expect to end up in the pool himself. Luckily for a young swimmer, this coach didn’t hesitate to jump in when he observed the swimmer in distress during a race.
The swimmer had stopped swimming and showed the classic signs of drowning—head tilted back, body upright, head bobbing below the surface, disorientation, and, most importantly, silence. When guards didn’t notice the swimmer, the coach’s own training kicked in. He dove into the pool and pulled the swimmer to safety.
This story reinforces many important points about keeping experienced swimmers safe in our sport:
- Even good swimmers can get in trouble. In this situation, the swimmer was attempting a new breathing technique and it went terribly wrong. Even the most experienced swimmers can suffer seizures, sudden illness, shallow water blackouts, cramps, and other physical catastrophes that cause them to lose consciousness or inhale water. It can happen at practice, during warm ups, or during a race to any swimmer in the pool.
- Drowning is silent. The movies have trained us to look for victims flailing their arms and shouting for help. Most often, a drowning swimmer will be quiet and subdued and show signs of mental disorientation such as not grabbing a nearby lane line or gutter. Be sure coaches, swimmers, and parents know the actual signs of drowning and know how to respond.
- Training is invaluable. Our NCS coaches undergo extensive training—water safety, CPR, lifeguard, first aid, athlete protection. When it comes to responding in an emergency, that training will make all the difference. This NCS coach recognized the emergency situation because of his training and was able to respond quickly and effectively.
- The more eyes on the pool, the better. Don’t underestimate the importance of alert observation by EVERYONE. And don’t hesitate to enlist help from parents, older swimmers, and facility staff to keep watch. Keep the swimmer/adult ratio at a responsible level at practices and at meets. Have lifeguards observe the pool wherever swimmers are in the water including the racing course and warm down areas. Raise the alarm if you see something out of order. And, like the NCS coach in this story, don’t hesitate to put your training into action to save a life.
For more information on recognizing and preventing drowning: https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/atg/PDF_s/SwimmingWaterSafety.pdf.