I had the opportunity to go swimming this week — my favorite activity.
The special-needs advocacy group, iCan Shine, held an event at the Golden Isles YMCA to teach young people with special needs how to swim. Asked to photograph the event, I grabbed my bathing suit and hopped in the pool with my camera. It was a nice way to get out of the office, for sure, but the endeavor to teach water safety is incredibly important.
On average, there are about 3,500 drownings every year in the United States. It’s a staggering number, and a tragedy for families coast to coast.
About a year ago — July 3, 2016, to be exact — I was with friends at McIntosh Reserve Park in Carroll County in West Georgia. Named for Creek tribe Chief William McIntosh, the reserve sits on land he once owned. McIntosh went on to sign a treaty with Gov. George Troup, ultimately handing control of his tribe’s land to the state government. He paid dearly for that on April 30, 1825, when warriors from his own tribe murdered him for his betrayal.
Today, the land is used for camping and recreation. That Saturday, we were paddling kayaks down the Chattahoochee River on a bright, hot summer afternoon. On the banks, a family had gathered and were grilling lunch while the kids swam in the river.
We rounded a meander in the river and lost sight of the family after waving to them and exchanging hellos. Not five minutes later, we knew something was wrong.
First it was the sirens. Then we saw the fire department boats race past us up river toward the family. A young boy had gone under the water and not come back up. Hours later, the boy’s body was found. He was the fourth drowning victim in three months. His death came just one week after a 28-year-old man drowned not 50 yards from where the boy died.
I grew up around water, and I enjoy swimming so much I usually keep a bathing suit in my car just in case — but I respect the water. It can be deadly. No one ever thinks tragedy will strike them. Tragedy happens to other people, we think. But it can happen to you — or me.
Take time this summer to talk to your kids about water safety. Wear your life jacket when boating or fishing. If you don’t like wearing a life jacket because they’re bulky, try one of the automatically inflating versions for sale at marine retailers. Watch your kids like a hawk when they’re in the water. Drownings happen fast, and often quietly. People don’t thrash and yell when they’re drowning. Rather, they usually quietly sink beneath the surface, sometimes unnoticed.
And whatever you do, don’t swim alone.
All of this might sound a little preachy, and it’s advice we’ve all heard before — but with the hot weather and more people taking a dip in the pools, rivers and the ocean, it can’t hurt to be reminded.
If you don’t know how to swim, learn. There are even adult swimming classes offered through various organizations in the Golden Isles. It’s never too late to learn how to swim.
I will never forget waving to that boy and his family mere moments before unimaginable misfortune struck them. Not long after that death, the county banned swimming at the park. The river’s still surface there belies the roiling current below.
Water can be a great way to cool off and entertain yourself over the hottest summer months — which are surely yet to come — but don’t let it fool you. Water can be dangerous. It can be deadly. But you can be more educated, better prepared and safer by knowing the consequences of ignoring dangers.
Stay cool out there, Golden Isles. And stay safe.