Lately, I’ve been having a serious case of déjà vu,that uncanny, eerie feeling that you’ve been there before.
It happened as I was editing this month’s important feature story about shallow water blackout and the resulting deaths that the phenomenon continues to cause.
See if this sounds familiar: A dangerous situation, which the industry has long known about, but largely ignored or failed to address, causes sporadic deaths over the years. Then, in the space of a short time, several horrific deaths happen. A mother of one of the victims just happens to have a relationship to a powerful politician. Still grieving, she starts a campaign to address the apparent industry oversight to this deadly situation through legislation.
By now, you can see where this is going. And if it sounds just like the scenario that led up to the Virginia Graeme Pool and Spa Safety Act, that’s because it is. Only this time, the issue is shallow water blackout. It just so happens that a woman by the name of Rhonda Milner (remember that name!) is waging a battle much like the one started and won by Nancy Baker. In a strange twist of fate, Milner just happened to meet Baker at an event she was attending not long after her son was killed in a shallow water blackout accident. As you can imagine, the two women had much to discuss.
So here we go again. Only this time, aquatics has the opportunity to learn from the past — and forge its own destiny rather than let Washington do it for us.
We know with absolutely certainty that allowing underwater breath-holding can be fatal. Yet a near majority of facilities not only allow the practice, but they don’t even have signs warning against it. We know that hypoxic training can be deadly even for the fittest swimmers. Yet some swim coaches still use the technique to train athletes. We know that these deaths can be prevented, yet there’s precious little education or information available to either industry professionals or the general public.
We also know all too well where all this leads. Anyone needing a reminder need only turn to our news section for the latest CPSC reinterpretation of VGBA, which would be funny if it didn’t have such serious consequences for aquatics.
Let’s make sure the industry doesn’t get VGBA’d again! Let’s band together as an industry and show Rhonda Milner and the likes of CPSC that we can police ourselves, thank you very much.
Let’s get warning signs in facilities that are missing them. Let’s start education campaigns that raise awareness about shallow water blackout dangers among the public and the profession. Let’s shape our own future, form our own policies and, in the process, show the world how much we care about safety and the importance of public water.
Unless we do, I can all but guarantee you that one day soon, we’ll all have a serious case of VGBA déjà vu. Only this time, it will be all too real.