In my four-plus years
as editor, I’ve seen numerous stories about children who
drown. But I never really understood the fear, confusion and
anxiety parents go through when their child goes missing at an
aquatics facility until this past Labor Day, when my professional
and personal worlds collided.
It all started when
my older brother came to me on the last day of a family reunion at
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Warrens, Wis. “Have you
seen Matt?” he asked me, obviously concerned. Moments
earlier, Matt, my 9-year-old nephew, had waved excitedly to us from
the wave pool as we waited in line for another turn on the tube
slide. Now he was missing.
Immediately, my mind
went to all the drownings we cover in Aquatics
International. I pictured him submerged underwater, unseen. Or
frantically crying for help, unheard. I cursed myself for being so
careless. How many times had I read the warnings of experts:
Don’t leave children unsupervised. More than anyone, I should
have known better, but in my own excitement, I had let my guard
help you look. I’m sure he’s fine,” I said, even
as my mind raced. I was heartened that the waterpark had a staff of
lifeguards, who were obviously scanning and staying vigilant. I
thought about going to a guard for help, but I couldn’t think
what I would say. “Have you seen a 9-year-old boy in blue
shorts?” I could be describing 60 percent of the
As I went from the
wave pool to the activity pool to the lazy river of the sprawling,
48,000-square-foot resort, I found it difficult to focus. All the
kids started to look alike. The distances between pools and
activity areas seemed insurmountable.
moments, I did what any parent or guardian would do. I looked in
silence — and I prayed. After a few minutes, my
brother’s wife joined the search, along with my niece. No one
could find him. I was just about to go to a lifeguard when my
brother showed up with my missing nephew in tow, smiling
sheepishly. It turned out, he had met a 5-year-old boy who asked
him if he wanted to go on the tube slide together.
We all breathed huge
sighs of relief.
It could have turned
out much differently. And at unguarded pools across the nation,
often it does — as detailed in our special report on this
thorny issue. Yes, there are those who debate the merits and
liabilities of guarded pools. But for me, it all comes down to one
thing: A vigilant guard is the best defense against
It’s time for
the entire industry to get on board with this line of thinking. It
may be easy for aquatics professionals to distinguish between an
apartment or small hotel pool, which comprise most of the unguarded
pools. But for the public, it is not. To them, it’s all
water. And when something tragic happens in the water, it taints
the whole industry.
leaders should do whatever they can to make unguarded pools a thing
of the past, a pariah that is not welcome in the world of aquatics.
As I discovered, when it comes to ensuring aquatic safety, everyone
needs a little help now and then. During those times, what a relief
it is to know that someone is watching your back.
International welcomes feedback from readers. All correspondence
may be edited for clarity and space considerations. Please include
your complete name and contact information.Letters may be sent by mail to Aquatics
International, Attn: Editor, 6222 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 600, Los
Angeles, CA 90048; by fax to 323.801.4986; or via e-mail to
Credit: Gary Thill