Aquatic safety would not be quite what it is today without Aquatic safety would not be quite what it is today without Mike Espino. As the aquatics safety and risk specialist at YMCA of the USA, he is responsible for the well-being of perhaps thousands of pool patrons. Prior to his current role, Espino spent 16 years overseeing all aquatics training as manager of aquatics technical development at the American Red Cross.

In both positions, he’s helped shape the foundation of aquatic safety policies and best practices, and worked to build partnerships and create synergy among leading aquatic authorities.

Growing up in Central California, Espino hoped to one day become an aerospace engineer, but he found his love of aquatics early. He was a competitive swimmer in high school and a lifeguard. After attending the University of Tennessee he landed a job as an aquatics director in Lauderhill, Fla., and later as director of health and safety at the Santa Barbara County (Calif.) Red Cross.

“I always liked guard training and management and found safety to be a new challenge,” he says of the move out of day-to-day operations management.

Espino’s passion for this aspect of the business is obvious in his accomplishments at the YMCA. The association’s goal is zero deaths by drowning, he says “There was a strategy developed before I came on board; my job has been to initiate it.”

And in the less than two years he’s been at the YMCA, Espino has made some significant inroads. He’s spearheaded an information campaign targeted toward a wide range of stakeholders and created an advisory group to help recommend and implement key safety strategies.

But perhaps Espino’s biggest contribution has been in building partnerships, first at the Red Cross and now at the YMCA. He was instrumental in the creation of the United States Lifeguard Standards Coalition, and the success he’s having with the YMCA is garnering international attention. Espino points to the e-mails he’s received from aquatics professionals outside the United States as evidence of the global impact of the initiatives he’s helped put in place.