Local nonprofits dive in to set record, save lives

By: Tiffany Esshaki, Kayla Dimick | C&G Newspapers | Published June 24, 2015

METRO DETROIT — After the YMCA helped set a Guinness World Record last year for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson, you’d think they’d take a year off.

Think again.

Last week, the nonprofit teamed up again with World’s Largest Swim Lesson — a coalition of national water safety experts and trainers — to try to set the record for the world’s largest swim lesson in 24 hours. Currently, Team WLSL holds the Guinness record for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson, with 36,564 participants in 22 countries around the world.

Participants were invited to take a free class June 18 at any of the nine metro Detroit YMCA locations to learn basic swim skills. Throughout the summer and all year long at many locations, community members can take advantage of affordable swim classes for kids ages 3-5, 6-12 and adults.

The goal behind the effort is to bring awareness to the importance of water safety, according to Michelle Robinson, regional director of aquatics for the YMCA of Metro Detroit. Drowning is the leading cause of unintended, injury-related death for children ages 1-5 and the second-leading cause of accidental death for children under 14. But research shows that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning in children ages 1-4 by 88 percent.

“By generating excitement around swim lessons, we are helping families understand the significance of water safety and the importance of learning this vital life skill,” said Robinson in a prepared statement.

The Southfield Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with Atlantis Swimming, also joined in the effort to beat the record June 18 at the Southfield Sports Arena. Members of the Atlantis Swimming Club use the pool at the arena for their swim practices.

“It’s a worldwide program where they’re trying to make the world record for the most amount (of) people in a swim lesson in one day,” said Patty Dearie-Koski, facility supervisor for Southfield Parks and Rec.

About 50 kids and teens sat down poolside for a quick overview on pool safety June 18 before jumping into the water for their lesson. Older participants paired off with younger ones to teach them the importance of proper swimming techniques to prevent drowning.

“We’re going to talk about water safety awareness and basic water safety today,” said Atlantis coach Vince Gallant. “Drowning is preventable in most cases with education. Not as many people learn how to swim and be safe around the water as they could be.”

Coach Greg Robinson said it is important to stay hydrated and to never swim alone.

“We want to teach them that you can have fun and have safety at the same time,” Robinson said.

Dr. Jason Gumma, a Southfield resident and an emergency room doctor at Providence Hospital in Southfield, said he was glad his children, Jason, 7, and Jude, 6, were participating in the lesson so they could learn about the risks involved with swimming. Gumma’s children are members of Atlantis Swimming.

“Pool safety is very important, because obviously when you’re in the lake or the pool, you can’t tell what the depth perception is, so you always have to be safe because everything you do is a risk,” Gumma said. “And then there’s such life-threatening injuries that may impede them from living a normal life or to be up to the maximum potential they can be, so I think pool safety is very important because everything is a risk, and we have to know what to do to prevent these risks.”

In Birmingham, Aquatic Director Robin Coapman said 17 participants came out for the record-setting class.

“It went really good,” she said. “We had six instructors in the water, and we did some group things like showing them how to do some reaching assist in case someone fell in and needed help; and kicking, blowing bubbles, things like that. It was kids between 3 and 5, and they had a blast. They loved it.”

Coapman said people in the Great Lakes state should be especially vigilant to teach children water safety skills, and there’s no better time of year than summer to let youngsters put those skills to practice.

“With all the lakes and beaches and swim clubs around, they need to know the basics. You think they’re OK because they’re within arm’s reach, but 10 seconds is all it takes for someone to panic and go under and start that process of drowning,” she said.

Luckily, at least 275 kids will likely be safer around the water now, since that’s how many participated in the YMCA swim class last week in metro Detroit alone. As for whether Team WLSL set yet another record, they just have to wait for the results to come in.