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    Credit: NICK ORABOVIC

As aquatics management professionals, we constantly work to prevent injuries and drowning by participating in frequent trainings, practicing our rescue skills and response, and reviewing emergency preparedness procedures and action plans with our staffs. 

Though we do our best to prepare staff members for emergencies, we pray that they will never have to actually utilize these plans and skills during a real-life emergency. 

But on June 26, 2009, that’s exactly what happened. And life as we knew it would never be the same.  

It was the emergency telephone call that an aquatics facility or program manager never wants to receive. The call was from one of my facility managers, notifying me that our lifeguards had to respond to a passive victim at the pool, a 5-year-old girl who was not breathing and did not show signs of a pulse. The lifeguards and pool managers had to perform CPR. My initial thoughts were of sheer panic and wanting to collapse to my knees, but I knew I had no time for that and had to rush to the facility. By the time I arrived, I was informed that the little girl had passed away.

This news rocked me to the core! I was devastated, as were my staff and facility managers. However, as a supervisor and in that very moment, I had to keep it together. That’s not to say I didn’t eventually lose it later in the comforts of my home … because I did. I am human.

As you can imagine, the scene could have been very chaotic following an incident of this magnitude, especially with the media hovering above in helicopters and parked in front of the facility. However, to my surprise, everything was well under control. Our emergency response procedures were in full effect. The facility was clear of patrons; staff members were in the midst of completing their debriefing session and incident reports; our public affairs representatives were handling the media inquiries; and plans were under way to secure grief counseling for the staff. 

The drowning of any child is devastating to all involved, including the family and the facility and/or organization. The child in our situation was African-American. You can imagine how the impact of this demographic detail, combined with my learning of the national statistics, played into me wanting to do as much as I could to effect change and to help prevent future drownings within minority communities. 

The effect on me personally and professionally was significant. Unfortunately, we could not save the little girl in 2009, but through the efforts of expanded community outreach, offering free access to our pools on certain days, and working with initiatives such as the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” initiative, our department is demonstrating a commitment to increasing water safety education and providing access to aquatics programs for our diverse community. 

As fellow aquatics professionals, what will be your contribution to reducing the drowning statistics and risks within minority communities? Or for reducing drowning statistics in your own community within the next several years?

The latest U.S. Census data predicts significant national population growth in Hispanic/Latino communities (nearly triple by 2050) as well as steady growth in African-American communities (growing from 13- to 15 percent of the population). So while your community may not currently have a significant minority population, you can expect to see a major change in demographics over the next several years. With this predicted and expected growth, we also can anticipate a relative increase in drowning statistics if we do not begin to address this issue now.

Don’t wait for the emergency telephone call from your staff to take the appropriate and necessary action. Improving minority participation in aquatics is not just an urban issue; it’s a national issue. As aquatics professionals, we have the power and resources to reduce these statistics . . . one lap at a time!