Medical benefits seen in chilly dips
An accident in which five boys drowned in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, has had positive repercussions: it has led to other lives being saved by a group of life guards set up in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Local swimmers can always be seen in Yongjiang River, and some work as volunteer life guards to prevent even more tragedies.
Guo Huiren, 62, a winter swimmer, is one of the volunteer lifeguards, and he says he has saved many lives in the city’s so-called mother river.
However, the endings have not all been so fortunate, and one day he says he will never forget is July 13, 2010, when the five boys, two of them twins, drowned while swimming in the river in southern Nanning.
Guo and friends from the local winter-swimming club set up the volunteer lifeguard service three days after the deaths.
It was at that time, too, when Guo, with other swimmers, set up the Guangxi Red Cross LifeSaving Volunteer Team on the banks of the Yongjiang. Initially it had 10 members, and today has more than 70, mostly retirees in their 60s.
“All the lifeguards are volunteers, and we’re all experienced swimmers,” says Ou Jian, the team captain. “Ten of us have received lifeguard certificates from the local government. Almost everyone on the team has saved people more than once.”
Guo, one of its most skilled swimmers, has rescued about 30 people. However, this dates back to before the group started; he says his first was in 1983, when he helped save a woman who tried to kill herself by jumping into the river.
Most incidents involve young people or those unfamiliar with the river and its currents, he says.
“The deepest part of the swimming area in Yongjiang River is more than 20 meters, but near the riverbank it is only 1 meter. This means it is very dangerous for the uninitiated, who swim too near undercurrents, get pulled out and suddenly find they don’t have the strength to swim back to the bank.”
Volunteers keep watch during the day and late into the evening, when swimming becomes even more hazardous.
Guo says the team receives no financial support from the local government or any business; members raise their own funds. The inclusion of the Red Cross in its name is unofficial, and it receives no financial support from the humanitarian organization, he says.
“Our group is run independently, but we are verified by the Red Cross and it has given us a lot of support, such as offering training programs (for volunteers).
“We have no figures on the number of people we have rescued,” Ou says, “but we’re ready to give a hand whenever anyone needs help.”
In addition to providing a lifeguard service, the team also promotes safety awareness. Members organize free lessons on the riverbank for young people to learn first aid, and go into schools and community centers to offer advice on how to stay safe in and around waterways.
Most locals who swim in the river now often use flotation devices, such as lifebuoys, Guo says.
“We call them tagalongs. If the swimmers encounter a dangerous situation a tagalong can help them survive it. We teach people useful tricks like this, and more importantly we teach them not to panic, stay calm and maintain the correct position if they are in danger.”
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Guo Huiren (center) and his peers work as volunteer life guards in the Yongjiang River. The group is run independently, but has links with the Red Cross.
Members of the volunteer lifeguard group are from a local winter-swimming club.