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Staying safe in the water

Local summer drownings a sad reminder that swimming is serious

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:18 p.m. CDT
(Rob Winner –
Bridgette and Adam Sojka watch the pool July 17 as their two boys, Nicholas and Matthew, take swim lessons at the Galowich Family YMCA in Joliet.
(Rob Winner –
Lifeguard and instructor John Pierson helps Calista Nebel, 3, learn how to kick with her feet while floating on her back during a swimming lesson July 17 at the Galowich Family YMCA in Joliet.
(Rob Winner —
Lifeguard and instructor Anne Shanahan helps Nicholas Sojka, 5, float on his back during a swimming lesson July 17 at the Galowich Family YMCA in Joliet

JOLIET – Trips to the lake. A nearby retention pond. The neighbor’s swimming pool. Your own swimming pool.

Water is a big summer attraction. But several people – young and old – have drowned in the area this summer. These tragedies have been reminders that swimming, boating and even fishing can quickly become hazardous ways to have fun.

Drowning should always be a concern when getting into water, said Kenya Raichart, a swim instructor at the Galowich Family YMCA.

“Adults or children. It’s the same first lesson they’re learning. The most important. Find the [pool] wall. Find the [water’s] edge. The only thing you ‘have’ to do when you’re in is get out,” said Raichart.

A 3-year-old boy drowned in a backyard pool in Morris on June 15. A 2-year-old girl drowned in a pool in Joliet on July 4. In both cases, CPR was started immediately for the kids but was unsuccessful.

A 20-year-old man drowned in the Kankakee River when his canoe overturned June 3 in Wilmington. And on July 11, a 33-year-old man wading in the Kankakee River near South Island Park was swept under the surface by a dam’s undertow.

A 24-year-old woman drowned in a boating accident June 25 on the Illinois River in Morris, and a 43-year-old man died after he fell into a retention pond July 15 in Bolingbrook.

Angela Parent of Plainfield said getting a family pool was conditional upon her three children, ages 9, 6 and 3, taking swimming lessons.

“I love the lessons. It’s great how they make the kids feel comfortable,” Parent said. “My 9-year-old daughter already knew how to swim, but I think it’s even scarier when they aren’t afraid of the water. That was my concern.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 10 people die from drowning every day. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency treatment for submersion injuries.

Adam and Bridgette Sojka, who don’t have a pool, said their 8- and 5-year-old sons weren’t allowed to attend the swim parties to which they were frequently invited before taking lessons. Bridgette said her sons were “banging on the door to get out” when they first were brought to the YMCA pool.

Raichart said that’s a typical reaction, even for seasoned young swimmers.

“I think they get too familiar with their own pool. This is something different and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” she said.

The ability to step or jump in water above your head, come back up and tread water for a minute, turn around in a circle, swim 25 yards and get out of the water without a ladder is considered essential for “water competency,” according to the Red Cross.

Raichart and all of the parents who were watching a recent lesson agreed vigilant adults are the best safeguard against tragedy in the water.

“Drowning is silent. You might hear a splash, but there’s no thrashing ‘Help! Help!’ You won’t hear a sound,” Raichart said. “Keep an eye on anyone around the pool. Have anyone who can’t swim keep their float on.”

“And,” Parent said, “make sure your pool is secure with a fence and lock.”

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