Why SWIMkids USA began

SWIMkids USA has won the Healthcare Leadership award for community impact given by AZ Business magazine. The award reflects the hard work of staff and the passion and direction of Lana Whitehead who started her business back in 1971.We thought this was a great opportunity to share Lana’s story of why SWIMkids USA began.

My story– By Lana Whitehead, Founder of SWIMkids USA

I began to develop the SWIMkids USA swim method when my first son was an infant. I knew how vitally important early swimming instruction was in the southwest. The sharply increasing number of home swimming pools in the warmer climates had contributed to the higher incidence of childhood drowning in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Also, by introducing my child to the water at an early age, I could help prevent the terror and resulting fear which often accompanies a negative aquatic experience.
In 1971, I started taking my son Lance to the YMCA in Pleasant Hill California to get him acclimated to water. He was only four months old at the time. The experience was so bonding and enjoyable for the both us, that he was paddling underwater and floating on his back in a matter of weeks. The director of the Y observed our private water sessions and asked me to develop a baby program for their facility. The classes were popular and grew very quickly. The next thing we knew, our program was being featured on all the San Francisco Bay area news programs.
During 1972 when our program was in its infancy, a friend’s son was found floating in her parent’s backyard pool. After days of stay in the intensive care unit with no improvement in his condition, three-year-old  Todd was removed from life support. I was there when my friend, Trutti on the advice of physicians had to make the decision to take her son off the breathing machines. Todd and my son Lance had been playmates in their nursery, primary and Sunday school classes since they were infants.
I will never forget the sadness I felt for Todd’s sweet mother as she made the selfless decision to let him leave this life in peace. A year later another sweet sister from church lost her three-year-old son in a similar backyard drowning. After experiencing these tragic deaths with my devastated friends, I vowed I would dedicate my life to water safety and drowning prevention. In 1974, I dedicated my first book “Incredible Swimfants” to the memory of Todd Gleason and Brian Westburg. Two precious young boys who were tragically robbed of full lives because they were unacquainted with water safety techniques and there were no barriers around the pools.
After moving to Arizona in 1998 we were contacted by NBC to publicize baby swimming. Since that time, SWIMkids USA has been featured on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, CBS Morning Show, That’s Incredible, Omni Medical Documentary, Montel Williams Show, PM Magazine and numerous local news broadcasts as advocates for water safety and drowning prevention.

SWIMkids USA has assumed a leadership role in drowning prevention awareness and demonstrated outstanding achievement in creating awareness of proven drowning prevention strategies with its regular speaking appearances at conferences all over the world. We have made a significant contribution to improve water safety and successfully promoted the use of new drowning prevention technologies by developing the SWIMkids USA method which has taught over 50,000 children. SWIMkids USA is viewed as an advocate for drowning prevention by increasing public attention at the policy making level by appearing regularly in the media, and authoring five books on the subject.

The Day They Went Under

Robbie and Kelsey at David's weddingYou would have thought I was opening a treasure chest.

My 3-year-old daughter, Kelsey and 4-year-old son, Robbie watched as I pulled clothes out of our suitcase. On top was Kelsey’s delicate lavender dress with its satin sash. Then, Robbie’s nice slacks and his little-boy-sized red tie. Tucked under them was the “treasure” they were really wanting. Their swim suits!

We had traveled to Park City, Utah to attend my brother’s wedding. The fancy clothes were for tomorrow’s festivities, but the swim suits were for now. We were going to the pool! Our home in Los Angeles did not have a swimming pool, but the mountain lodge we just checked into did.

I enjoyed hearing their giggles and splashing as they played. I sat in a chair on the edge, loving the mountain air. How cute they were! Without a care in the world, I was happily watching their joy.

What happened next unfolded quickly.

They moved into a deeper area of the pool than they had previously been playing in. They were holding the edge. They let go and paddled out to deep water, then went straight down. I’ll never know why it happened. I’m guessing they were frightened or felt panic. For whatever reason they could not get back up for air.

Fully clothed, I went in after them. I am truly grateful that I’m a former competitive swimmer for whom swimming is my lifelong love. I was also a professional lifeguard for several years. I knew what to look for and could discern quickly that they were not joking around. Their drowning was absolutely silent.

My denim jacket had a padded/quilted lining and the longer I was under the heavier it got. Why I didn’t cast it off prior to jumping in is a question I ask of myself. Thankfully, lifeguard training prepared me to do a rescue while fully-clothed.

If you are the designated water watcher this summer, please take minute to read these 5-tips from Lana Whitehead, founder of SWIMkids USA.   Lana is the recipient of a 2014 Health Care Hero award from the Phoenix Business Journal for the impact she has had on educating our community about the dangers of drowning.

Water watcher tips:

  • Young children require close supervision. How close? “It should be within an arm’s length,” Lana says.
  • It is best is to be in the water with the child. “That way you have your ears, your eyes, and the tactile benefit of feeling the turbulence of the water if the child is struggling,” Lana explains.
  • If you cannot be in the water, sit on the side with your feet dangling in the pool.
  • A designated adult should be watching children at all times with no distractions. SWIMkids USA provides free water watcher wrist bands that say “I’m in charge! Lifeguard on duty” to anyone who would like one.
  • Switch the person who is watching the swimmers every 15 minutes. This person must know how to swim.

The chance for distraction is great when the sun is shining and the kids are having fun. But, think of the image of a professional lifeguard. It is not the same as babysitting. A designated lifeguard is never involved in any other activity such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn while supervising children.

My children came up coughing-up water and crying. They were successfully rescued. They say today that they learned a valuable lesson from the experience. I also thought about how I had Kelsey in dance lessons and Robbie did baseball (T-ball). After that, I made time in their afternoons for more swim lessons.

To get your free water watcher wrist band contact SWIMkids USA at (480) 820-9109. Or visit their website for contact here: SWIMkids USA

For more information about water safety read this from the Centers for Disease Control.

CDC Water Safety Information

Your Swimmer is Going to be a Brainiac!

Can you say, SCHOLARSHIP?

Our job teaching students at SWIMkids USA is so worth it. We’re both saving lives and preparing our students for successful college careers.

Wait a second. That seems like an awful lot to assert, right? Wrong!

From 2009 to 2013, researchers from Griffith University collected data from our swim school students (as well as little swimmers from Australia and New Zealand), and what they discovered is truly amazing.

On average, early swimmers are seven months ahead of their peers in motor achievement, as well as 10 months ahead both cognitively and linguistically. So that means: advanced development in locomotion, grasping skills and visual motor integration. Cognitively and linguistically, the early-developed abilities include better mathematic reasoning, reading and comprehension skills as well as an improved ability to recall short stories and to listen and follow directions. Check out the official report here.

When your kids are finally ready for their first day of kindergarten, they’ll be miles ahead of their classmates.

But the crucial advantages don’t stop there!

Did you know there are a ton of swimming scholarships available?

That’s right. If you start your kids in swimming early, then they have a serious chance at knocking out collegiate debt.

Swimming doesn’t just save lives- it saves money in the long run, and it grows the brain!

Swimming at Home: Watch those Bad Habits!

With record temperatures scorching the Valley, there isn’t much to do outside besides swimming.

When you swim at home, it’s important to remember (and practice!) the techniques that your child learned with us at SWIMkids USA. Yes, pool time should be fun, but it’s important to avoid these common mistakes at all costs.

  1. Using floaties. This factor is so important that we’re covering it twice! If you keep up with the blog, you already know that water wings are dangerous. They give your child a false sense of security, and force your child to swim in a vertical position. But why is vertical swimming an issue, you ask? It’s how people drown. Check out the video below for a better understanding, and use a properly fitting life jacket instead.
  2. The “Jump to Me!” game. We get it. It’s hot outside, and you want to cool off with the kiddos! You can feel yourself sweating, so you hop in the pool in a jiffy. Before long, the little ones are trying to launch into your arms from the side of the pool. Bad idea. The “jump to me” game teaches the child that the way to safety is to the center of the pool, rather than back to the wall or rolling to their back float. They have fun jumping in, but as far as survival is concerned, 100% of the work is being done by the person they are jumping in to. If they’re always playing like this with you, will they think twice about jumping in without you?
  3. Forming bad habits. It’s great to have fun in the pool, but make sure that your children are practicing the techniques they learned in class!  Vertical swimming is typically the start of the drowning process. It is the opposite of being safe.  It leads to exhaustion, usually followed by inhalation of water.  We recommend you have “practice” before play time, even if it is just a few minutes, or often times your child will have the expectation that swim class is suppose to be all play and no work. It’s vital that they associate their swim skills with ANY body of water, rather than just the SWIMkids USA practice pools.

 

Pool Floaties Are Unsafe, with Instructor Sarah

THE BASICS

It’s beginning to get toasty in the Valley, and we’re all fretting about water safety. Over the Easter weekend, a little girl drowned in Saguaro Lake, and it was absolutely horrible to hear about it.

We know you want to do what’s right and safe for your kiddos. That means watching them around water, practicing touch supervision and giving them the tools they need to survive.

Did you know swim floaties are incredibly unsafe for your child? Several online resources (the BabyCenter, Whale Wisdom, and Parents.com, to name a few) have spoken out about the dangers of using flotation devices. They give children a false sense of security, and prevent them from having the skills they need to survive in an emergency.

A CLOSE CALL:

Last summer, we had a terrible scare at my sister-in-law’s house. We had gathered the family for a barbecue and fun day of swimming. Much to my dismay, the little ones had been swimming with floaties. Naturally, I could not help but have my eyes glued on those who were swimming, as I do not trust the safety of the devices.

When the sun had set, we cleared the pool and brought everyone inside the house. Or so we thought. When everyone went inside, my sister-in-law grabbed her brother and threw him in the pool. They were playfully wrestling and splashing loudly, but thank goodness I had been watching from the kitchen window.

While the grown ups were creating a ruckus, my 6-year-old nephew silently ran out of the house, and launched himself into the pool without his floaties. He had been wearing them all day during the supervised swim time, so he thought he would be able to stay afloat. Instead, with fear in his eyes, he quickly disappeared under the surface of the water, and I bolted outside to help pull him out.

Please, teach your children to swim, rather than allowing them rely on insufficient swimming aids. If a kid cannot swim, he or she must wear a properly fitting life jacket.  Every child must have an adult fully present at all times. Check out the U.S. Coast Guard life jacket standards here.

Practice: Touch Supervision, Designated Water Watcher

Of course, we’ve already discussed the National Drowning Prevention Alliance’s “layers of protection,” and now it’s time for us to explore touch supervision and the role of the designated water watcher.

Together, we can prevent drownings worldwide. You just have to follow a few steps. (Check out Banner Health’s comprehensive check list here.)

Touch Supervision

Drowning is silent. As a swim instructor with over eight years of experience, I can’t tell you how many times parents have told me about the close calls they’ve had in the family pool. It happens all the time! You look down to answer a text, or turn your head to talk to a friend, and in just a few seconds, your little one could be struggling under water without a sound. After about four minutes, permanent brain damage occurs, and death can occur as soon as four to six minutes. Never leave your child’s side around water.

To keep your kids safe at all times, you must practice touch supervision. This means you should be only an arm’s length away from your children at all times, around any open water. (That means pools, lakes, bathtubs, etc.) After all, if your kid slips under the water, the fastest way to get them out is to grab them!

Please, take a look at the video below. Even though the infant is wearing a life jacket, he could have drowned without the immediate help from his dad.

The Designated Water Watcher

Whether you are at home, a family barbecue or a friend’s pool, it’s vitally important to have a designated water watcher. This person needs to constantly have their eyes on the children in the water. Give them a wristband with a whistle on it, like this one. If they need to take a break, be absolutely certain to pass the whistle and the duty to another vigilant person who knows exactly what he or she needs to do!

The Mesa Fire and Medical Department made an informative video of what it means to be a designated water watcher. Check it out, and be sure to embrace the steps they outline. Although the thumbnail depicts a child in floaties, the video clearly states that wearing floaties is an unsafe practice, as it provides the child with a false sense of confidence. 

Do you have a testimony of how touch supervision or a designated water watcher saved your child’s life? Please leave a comment below.

Sarah has taught swim lessons with us for over eight years. This is a photo from her daughter, Rylee's, first lesson!

Sarah has been an instructor with us for over eight years. This is a photo from her daughter’s first swim lesson!