‘It’s a mat­ter of life or death’

Par­ents, aquat­ics ex­perts be­lieve swim­ming lessons, water safety ed­u­ca­tion should be manda­tory in schools

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - PUZZLES - BY ROSIE MULLALEY

It was a nice sum­mer day for a dip on a sunny sum­mer af­ter­noon ear­lier this month when 14-year-old Bobby Lush and his two younger friends and younger cousin took a trip to the beach.

With adult rel­a­tives watch­ing from the shore at Small Point, near Western Bay, the chil­dren were up to their waists, hav­ing a good time, frol­ick­ing in the ocean.

Sud­denly, they were out of sight.

“Just like that, they were gone,” Bobby’s fa­ther, Robert Hawco told The Tele­gram Tues­day.

He said a rogue wave came out of nowhere and sucked all four chil­dren out into the ocean, where they were in over their heads.

“It hap­pened just like that,” Hawco said.

One of the younger chil­dren ended up cling­ing to a rock stick­ing up fur­ther out in the ocean. Bobby, a strong swim­mer, man­aged to pull him­self to the sur­face and tread water, but when he saw the other two swim­mers in trou­ble, he grabbed both and pulled them to the rocks. “All the younger kids were cry­ing,” Hawco said.

Hawco wasn’t there, but got the call from his son soon af­ter­wards telling him about the fright­en­ing or­deal.

“I just thank God they all sur­vived,” he said. “It could’ve went the other way pretty quickly.”

He’s also thank­ful his son was a strong swim­mer.

It’s one of many fright­en­ing in­ci­dents that hap­pened to chil­dren all too of­ten in this prov­ince and one of the rea­sons why par­ents and water safety ad­vo­cates are push­ing for more ed­u­ca­tion.

Hawco — whose son was in swim­ming lessons from age six — is one of many par­ents who be­lieve swim­ming and life­sav­ing water train­ing should be manda­tory in the school sys­tem.

“Es­pe­cially here, on an is­land, where we’re sur­rounded by water and kids swim in the ocean all the time,” Hawco said. “I’m glad Bobby learned about it when he was young be­cause it cer­tainly paid off ( that day)…

“I played sports all my life, but know­ing how to swim and what to do in those (dan­ger­ous) sit­u­a­tions is more im­por­tant than any of it.

“It’s a mat­ter of life or death.” Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent sta­tis­tics pre­pared by the Drown­ing Preven­tion Re­search Cen­tre for the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety of Canada, be­tween 2009 and 2013, the Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner re­ports there were 110 drown­ing fa­tal­i­ties in New­found­land and Labrador — an in­creased of 14 per cent over the pre­vi­ous five-year pe­riod.

Ninety-four per cent of those fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred in nat­u­ral bod­ies of water (68 per cent in the ocean, 15 per cent in a pond or lake and 11 per cent in a river or stream).

The av­er­age death rate of 4.2 per 100,000 peo­ple in this prov­ince con­tin­ues to be sub­stan­tially higher than the na­tional av­er­age of 1.4 per 100,000.

With the num­bers ris­ing, many be­lieve water safety needs to be taken more se­ri­ously.

Rae­gan Wise­man of the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety of Canada, New­found­land and Labrador branch, said while some schools in­cor­po­rate Swim to Sur­vive in­struc­tion in their cur­ricu­lum, not all chil­dren in the prov­ince get the op­por­tu­nity.

“I do be­lieve hav­ing it part of the school cur­ricu­lum would help tremen­dously,” said Wise­man, who has been a life­guard and swim­ming in­struc­tor for al­most 10 years.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is the key to pre­vent water-re­lated in­ci­dents. Kids should know ex­actly what to do so that it be­comes sec­ond na­ture to them.”

When The Tele­gram asked to speak to Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Dale Kirby, the de­part­ment sent an email stat­ing there are no plans to in­tro­duce manda­tory swim­ming lessons in the school cur­ricu­lum.

It pointed out that not all stu­dents through­out the prov­ince would have ac­cess to in­door swim­ming fa­cil­i­ties. How­ever, it noted that there are schools in the prov­ince with ac­cess to in­door pools and su­per­vised swim­ming that of­fer lessons.

“The K to 12 phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and health cur­ricu­lum does teach and pro­mote safety dur­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and is flex­i­ble so that if a school wanted to teach swim­ming they cer­tainly could,” the de­part­ment said.

In ad­di­tion, water safety is also a part of the health pro­gram, which teaches stu­dents per­sonal safety with re­spect to boat­ing and other water ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing the proper use of per­sonal flota­tion de­vices.

But many peo­ple in this prov­ince be­lieve lessons and hand­son water sur­vival in­struc­tion should be com­pul­sory.

Some other prov­inces make it a pri­or­ity.

On­tario’s pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment pro­vides the Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety with $1.5 mil­lion a year to give Grade 3 stu­dents lessons in ba­sic water sur­vival. Some are now push­ing the gov­ern­ment to make swim­ming lessons avail­able for all stu­dents in that prov­ince.

Other parts of the world also make it a ma­jor part of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aquamo­bile web­site in England, all schools must pro­vide swim­ming in­struc­tion to chil­dren be­fore they fin­ish their pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. They are re­quired to be taught to swim con­fi­dently over a dis­tance of at least 25 me­tres.

In Juneau, Alaska, the gov­ern­ment has made swim­ming a large part of the cur­ricu­lum, due to their prox­im­ity to the coast. They have en­sured that ev­ery stu­dent be­fore the age of 10 can swim con­fi­dently and in­de­pen­dently, through their Learn to Swim Pro­gram.

“The gov­ern­ment in Alaska is even sub­si­diz­ing the cost of the use of the pool and the lessons, be­cause they are aware of how im­por­tant this life skill is,” the web­site states.

Su­san Quigley, aquat­ics su­per­vi­sor at The Sum­mit recre­ation fa­cil­ity in Mount Pearl, said it’s not just about learn­ing to swim, but about learn­ing how to be water smart — learn­ing how to tread water, how to help your­self when in trou­ble and not to panic.

“I truly be­lieve it’s a life skill. It’s one of those things that (is more) im­por­tant than learn­ing to ride a bike or any other recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause the con­se­quences are so great,” Quigley said.

“And it should be taught early in life be­cause like any­thing, it’s harder to learn the older you get.”

Quigley said chil­dren also need to be taught how to rec­og­nize dan­ger­ous water haz­ards and know what swim­ming spots are dan­ger­ous and when.

“So many drown­ing deaths are pre­ventable,” she said. “Our youth need to have a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing about these dan­gers.

“And par­ents shouldn’t leave it up to the school sys­tem. They need to take a proac­tive role, too.”

Amanda Dawe-or­gan was adamant that her daugh­ter would have swim­ming lessons.

“I wanted her to be­come com­fort­able in and around water, and learn water safety rules,” said Dawe-or­gan, whose daugh­ter be­gan lessons at age three.

She had asked her daugh­ter’s teacher about lessons in school, but was told there were not enough teach­ers to make it work.

“It’s a shame, re­ally. It should be part of the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram of the schools,” she said.

“Ev­ery child should know how to swim. It’s a vi­tal life skill. … I know ac­ci­dents can still hap­pen, but with ac­ci­den­tal drown­ings still oc­cur­ring at high or higher rates, giv­ing our child the op­por­tu­nity and abil­i­ties to learn to swim is giv­ing her a nec­es­sary skill — not only to help her­self if some­thing ever hap­pened, but to pos­si­bly save some­one else as well.”

Bill Cahill of Bauline started tak­ing his grand­chil­dren — Jack­son, 6, and Rachel, 3 — to the pool when they were tod­dlers.

“It’s all about hav­ing fun for them and it’s an op­por­tu­nity for me to spend some qual­ity time with them, but it’s im­por­tant to get them used to the water when they’re young,” Cahill said while wait­ing to get into the kid­die pool at the Aquarena re­cently.

“I can’t swim my­self, but it’s an im­por­tant skill and I wanted them to have that. They’re com­fort­able in the water and I know they’ll keep pro­gress­ing as they get older.

“I love the water,” Jack­son said with a smile.

Cahill said, in this day and age of busy sched­ules, not ev­ery child is lucky enough to have a par­ent or grand­par­ent avail­able to take them swim­ming.

“That why I think swim­ming lessons should be in the schools too,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant to have that knowl­edge of water safety.”

Swim­ming lessons and water safety in­struc­tion cer­tainly paid off for Hawco’s son, Bobby, his friends and cousin.

“That’s for sure,” he said. “If Bobby hadn’t been a strong swim­mer, I don’t want to think about what could’ve hap­pened to them.”

PHOTO BY ROSIE MULLALEY

Like most kids, Gra­cie Or­gan loves the water, which is why her par­ents, Shawn and Amanda, in­sisted she get swim­ming lessons at an early age.

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