There’s an old saw that when someone saves your life, you’re bound to them for the rest of yours. For Catherine Barry, it was less someone, than something.
Her brush with death happened when she was 18 and surfing with a friend. She was an experienced American Red Cross trained lifeguard and former competitive swimmer. But when she was knocked out by the surfboard, the only thing that saved her was her friend — and his training. “Had he not been with me, I would have died,” Barry says. “It all begins with learn to swim.”
So when the American Red Cross called her decades later, seeking help with a controversy over training and pricing changes, she didn’t hesitate.
That was five years ago, and Barry now serves as the group’s national director of aquatics product development. “I didn’t expect to be here that long, but water stays in your veins,” she says.
In her tenure, Barry hasn’t just quelled the controversy she was hired to address, she’s also led one of the largest changes to Red Cross learn-to-swim and water safety instructor training in the group’s 102-year history. For Barry, who had experience with AT&T in sales and product development, that started with a simple approach: listening. “We’ve got to understand who the client is, and what they’re looking to do,” she says. “We can’t fix everything, but we can make good decisions based on what they tell us.”
Based on input received, the team formulated programs targeted to different age groups. Barry also formed new alliances with water safety groups such as United States Lifesaving Association and the National Swimming Pool Foundation. She led development of apps that help people remain safe in water and track swim lesson development. She created the Basic Swim Instructor, a program teaching basic self-preservation skills.
Additionally, she embarks on perhaps her biggest task yet: Releasing updates to 31 courses in the water safety instructor suite, which incorporate Emergency Cardiovascular Care changes and as well as changes in WSI protocols.
“You have to think about what you’re trying to do: Help people stay safer in, near and around the water.”