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Do you know how to swim? The girl I rescued before she could drown didn’t, but she got lucky

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

“I think that girl is drowning,” my son, John, yelled at me many years ago when we were on vacation at South Padre Island.

He was maybe five years old. I was reading the local paper poolside while John was in the water. He was hanging on the side in the deep end. He had known how to swim for quite a while by then.

We went out to the condominium pool as a compromise. John was nagging me to go back to the beach, and I wanted to lie down in air conditioning and take a little nap. So, we agreed to go to the pool, and he would swim while I read the paper.

Two girls, one about 10 and the other at least 13, later came out to the pool and got in the water on the shallow side. They were screaming and splashing. We were the only ones there.

Then the bigger girl stepped a little too far towards the deep end and found herself in water above her head. The younger girl stayed in the shallow end. Apparently, neither one of them knew how to swim.
After John alerted me and I looked up, I saw her go under water. She didn’t know how to keep afloat. By the time I jumped in the water, she was going under for a second time.

When I reached her, I had to make sure that she wasn’t going to pull me under also, so I grabbed her shoulder from the back and started pulling her to the side while making sure that she didn’t sink back under water.

After a few seconds of hanging onto the side of the pool, she managed to climb out halfway, and I pushed her the rest of the way. Then she lay there coughing, but was alright otherwise. Her sister was there also by then, and they said something to each other in Spanish.

After a few minutes, she got up slowly, turned to me and said, “Gracias, señor,” and they both left.
“You just saved that girl’s life,” John said.

“Well, we both did, son,” I replied.

John continued to swim back and forth in the deep end. I went in the water for a few minutes to cool off, and then we left to get ready for dinner.

Had we not been at poolside when this happened – because I took John to the beach, like he wanted, or I just took a nap – that young girl would not have been able to walk away just like that. She may have drowned.
I also taught my younger son, Bobby, and daughter, Stephanie, how to swim at a very early age, and made sure they learned to respect the water while also having a lot of fun in it.

Before they learned, life jackets or floaties were mandatory around water. After they learned and the flotation devices came off, they were under my or my wife’s watchful eyes the entire time.

We experience on the average 10 non-boat drownings per day in the Unites States. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S.

Actual death may take 3-4 minutes, but drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs. If a person is in the process of drowning, that’s the rescue window.

It probably didn’t take longer than 20 seconds to get to that girl and start helping her stay above water while pulling her to the side. Even by then, though, she had made two attempts to stay up and kept going under because she had no idea how to keep herself afloat.

I periodically reminisce about this incident, and how it could have turned out differently had we not been there. I don’t know what the parents were thinking, allowing those two girls to go to the pool by themselves, knowing that neither of them knew how to swim.

What reminded me of it this time was a touching Father’s Day note from Stephanie attached to a photo of me holding her at poolside when she was very little.

“Thank you for teaching me how to swim… ,” her note said in part.

I saw that young girl the next day when we were checking out. She was fine. She looked at me and quickly turned the other way, like she was embarrassed.

But she did not have to be. Her parents should have been embarrassed.

The American Association of Pediatrics says children can safely take swim lessons as early as age one. Until 2010, the AAP had specified this number as age 4, but when research showed a reduced risk of drowning in preschoolers who had taken swimming lessons, the organization amended its advice.

Young parents, teach your children at a very early age how to swim. You’ll be glad you did.