Swim Safely

This is a true story. My story. I have changed everyone’s name to protect their privacy. NO ONE’S NAME IS CORRECT!

I get very emotional around summer time because of a terrifying event. I realize that this is the time everyone will be going to the pool and know that parents will be pawning their kids off on the City pools as a 75 cent baby sitter.

I had just graduated high school in the Summer of 2005 and started my summer job at the city pool. We got red cross certified, NASCO certified, and had weekly training exercises. We should have been well prepared for anything.

June 18, 2005 I was told to work at Sanders pool the smallest and least busy of our 3 pools. The pool didn’t open until 3pm but I got there at 2 to help open. We were informed that the pool had been bought out for the day by the Black Alumni Association for a Juneteenth celebration so everyone would get in free. The pool was jam packed, although not more than the official capacity, I feel there were too many people since the capacity is for the WHOLE pool and not just the shallow end that isn’t blocked off. The first hour went off with minor safety infractions by the rambuctious kids.

At 3:50pm we called all the kids out of the pool for a ten minute break. As two lifeguards were clearing the pool, a little girl went off the slide. One went to talk to the girl about getting into the pool after the whistle and the other helped me and the other guards round up the rest of the kids to sit far enough away from the edge. I personally made sure no one went in the big pool until time and another guard watched the kiddy pool. When the break was almost up, I was told to go to the diving board stand. As I climbed the side of the stand I heard a young girl say “There’s somebody down there,” in a very matter of fact way that didn’t initially trigger any alarms. I finished the climb and said “what?” and turned around to see her eyes wide open and pointing straight down. I looked where she was pointing and could faintly see the outline of something. I focused a little harder and could clearly see two hands and two feet. I frantically grabbed for my whistle and blew the “going in” signal as I jumped.

The swim across the pool isn’t more than 15 meters but it felt like I was swimming forever.  I kept saying “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” The other lifeguards say my head was only above water for a second before I swam underwater to where he was. As I got closer to the spot, I could plainly see a little boy. He was a black boy with short curly hair and he was almost completely in the fetal position he didn’t look older than 12. I was trying not to panic before I sank to the bottom of the deep end (I don’t remember if it was 10 or 8 feet) but I still didn’t take a big enough breath because I said “oh my God,” one last time. By the time I got to him I was out of breath and couldn’t make a “text book” lift. I grabbed him by the arm, planted my feet on the bottom, and shot to the top before I drowned myself. When I broke the surface and took my breath John was standing there waiting for me to pass him on. The kids that were there thought I was giving them the whistle to go back in the pool and as soon as I passed him off I started yelling for them to get out.

The pool manager helped me out and that’s when the adreneline stopped and I started to panic. John was already starting CPR and I tried to pull my mouth guard out of my fanny pack. I first pulled the left zipper against the right one then the right zipper against the left, effectively just moving the two across the line. Then I pulled them both against each other, that’s when Kevin shoved me out of the way and began CPR. That’s when I really broke down. I started to panic saying “ten minutes ten minutes ten minutes” when Doug came over he asked me if I was alright and I just grabbed him by the arms and said “Doug, he was down there for TEN MINUTES!”

When I finally got my senses back, I helped Denise and Ray handle the crowd. We asked how old he was and if anyone knew who his parents were. When his dad came in, he was screaming and crying and tried to jump in the deep end. For what felt like eternity we took turns working on him and a firefighter that was there with his kids helped us (I still haven’t thanked that man!) When the paramedics showed up, we finally got some answers and his age changed from 13 to 8 (EIGHT!). They took his pants off to start an IV so I grabbed a towel to cover him from the crowd that was gathered behind the fence. He was pronounced dead at the hospital that day, but I know he was gone before I picked him up. When his cousins came forward they said he jumped off the diving board right before the whistle. He could have easily drowned while the guards were clearing the pool or scolding the little girl.

The worst place to be in a pool is right under a guard. Drowning can be very silent and is hardly ever the loud thrashing that you see in movies.

A pool is 14 times more likely to be involved in the death of a child than a motor vehicle. Drowning is the second leading cause of death of children under 15. Children under 5 and adolescents between 15-24 have the highest drowning rates. Yet 58% of parents don’t believe drowning is a threat. 70% of preschoolers who drown are in the care of one or both of their parents at the time.

To this day his little face is forever stuck in my head. He had a bright smile in his pictures and according to his family, had big dreams.

I’m hoping that my story will help you realize that it only takes a small distraction to keep you from noticing something big. If you are sending your children to the pool this summer please make sure they are with a reliable buddy. Lifeguards are not babysitters. If they are correcting your child they may miss something bigger.