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Water Safety Is Everyone's Job

Every summer in Central Texas the stories repeat themselves. All too often, tragedy strikes when a young child who cannot swim wanders out of a parent's sight for even the slightest of instants. Or when a teen or young adult who never properly learned to swim ventures out too far in water too deep or a current too strong. No excuse is acceptable for not providing your child with proper swimming and water safety instruction.

In our community, cost is not an obstacle, thanks to programs like the Austin American Statesman's Swim Safe for Austin Kids. The YMCA of Austin has been proud to partner with the Statesman and the Austin Parks & Recreation Department in Swim Safe since its inception more than a decade ago. In that time, more than 12,000 children from underserved communities have learned to swim.

Our YMCA of Austin Project SAFE, in conjunction with the Austin Independent School District and other area districts, has now provided free swim lessons to more than 8,500 first-grade students. Our SwimATX program provided free water confidence classes and lifeguard training for 88 high school students this year, in partnership with Austin ISD and the City of Austin.

Organizations such as Colin's Hope are providing free water safety instruction to area kids and helping raise funds to provide low-cost lessons.

And at all area YMCA's, we provide financial assistance to any individual or family who needs it for Y programs such as swim lessons. In 2014, we provided more than $2.6 million in financial assistance to more than 40,000 men, women and children so they could benefit from Y programs and memberships.

We also provide adaptive swim programs for persons with disabilities, as well as lifeguard certification courses for those wanting to keep others safe.

Being safe in the water isn't hard, but it does require a committed effort from you. The basics of water safety are actually quite simple:

  • Only swim when and where there is a lifeguard on duty; never swim alone
  • Inexperienced swimmers should take precautions and wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) when in, on or around the water
  • Children who are beginners should stay within arm's reach of an adult in the water

But the most important point is this: When your children are swimming at a local pool or area waterway, you are a lifeguard. Even if a professional lifeguard is on duty, you are responsible for keeping watch over your child. Don't make the mistake of assuming that your child will be safe because a lifeguard is on duty. You are your child's lifeguard.

Having worked many summers as a lifeguard, I will tell you from personal experience that, in a pool filled with 100 people, it is physically impossible to keep watch over everyone at all times. Even the best of lifeguards rely on the efforts of parents and guardians to keep kids safe in the water.

Finally, understand that it's never too late to learn how to swim. In a culturally diverse community like Austin, many adults simply did not grow up in places where swimming was a common recreational activity. As a result, not only can many adults not swim, but they also don't see the obvious need to teach their children to swim. It's a vicious and deadly circle.

No one should feel embarrassed about not knowing how to swim. Adult swimming lessons are available throughout our ccommunity, even classes for those who are especially terriified of water. The good news it that, once you learn to swim, it's fun for adults and children alike, and has many health benefits. Few exercises can rival swimming as a way to improve strength, flexibility and stamina. Plus, it's easy on the joints and particularly suitable for older adults.

Perhaps most important of all, when the mercury hits the boiling point, nothing feels quite as good as a refreshing dip in the water.

OP-ED by James Finck, President & CEO, YMCA of Austin


More information on YMCA swimming programs is available here