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Swim lessons can head off danger

In a state with the highest drowning rate for kids ages 1 to 4, the YMCA's Make a Splash program aims to make a difference.

Published June 14, 2007

Megan Eggert 4 of Palm Harbor left and Grace Olive 7 of Palm Harbor swim Wednesday while attending a beginners swimming course with YMCA of the Suncoast Palm Harbor branch.
[Douglas R. Clifford Times]
[Douglas R. Clifford Times]
Three-year-old Ethan Salinas of Tarpon Springs struggles to get back to the wall while learning to swim Wednesday under the guidance of aquatics and wellness director Cindy Tiemann of New Port Richey at a beginners swimming course with YMCA of the Suncoast Palm Harbor branch.

Kids splashing around the pool -- it's a hallmark of summertime.

Swimming can be among the most fun activities for youngsters this time of year and also among the most dangerous.

Florida has the highest drowning rate in the nation for kids ages 1 to 4, according to the Florida Department of Health. And the state has the country's third-highest drowning rate overall.

That's why parents like Maria Bilirakis, who has daughters ages 4 and 10, keeps the safety cover on her pool.

"I want excellent swimmers," Bilirakis, 31, said Wednesday as her older daughter took a swimming class at the YMCA of the Suncoast's Palm Harbor branch. "It's every parent's fear; and it's not just about my pool, but other people's pools too."

This summer, the Palm Harbor YMCA plans to expand its water safety efforts to children with disabilities through its Make a Splash program.

The program, open to 3- to 12-year-olds, will begin on June 23 and run for six weeks. The YMCA is recruiting volunteers for the program and hopes to expand it to all ages by summer's end, said Beverly Pizzano, coordinator of Make a Splash.

The program will serve children with disabilities of all kinds, including developmental and emotional. It's not meant to teach the children how to swim, but to provide a level of knowledge about safety.

"They truly have no survival instinct, so they need more special attention," Pizzano said. "A lot of them are not going to be able to learn swimming skills, but they can certainly learn to have fun in the water and they can learn to do it safely."

But while good skills help keep children safer, experts say they aren't a substitute for adult supervision. The YMCA keeps a ratio of about 25 swimmers to each lifeguard on duty.

"Sometimes parents get caught up with the fact that my child can swim, " said Randy Nilsson, executive director at the Palm Harbor YMCA. "But even a swimmer with the ability can have a problem. So the solution is supervision."

Fast facts: Red Cross safety tips

  • Learn to swim. And swim with a buddy.
  • Swim under lifeguard supervision.
  • Know the arms-length rule. If a child isn't a good swimmer, parents should remain within arm's reach.
  • Set rules, even at home. For example, inexperienced swimmers should stay in water less than chest deep.
  • Enter the water "feet-first."

Fast facts: To get swimming lessons

Red Cross: (727) 446-2358

Clearwater (Infant through adult lessons; groups and private.)

  • The Long Center: 793-2320
  • Morningside Recreation Center: 507-4065
  • Clearwater Beach Recreation Complex: 462-6020
  • Ross Norton Recreation Complex: 462-6025
  • North Greenwood Recreation Complex, Ray Green Aquatic Center: 462-6276

Dunedin (Age 2 through adult swim.)

  • Highland Pool Complex: 298-3266

Largo (Infant through adult swim lessons; group and private.)

  • Highland Family Aquatics Center: 518-3018
  • Southwest Recreation Center: 518-3126

For more information on the Palm Harbor YMCA's swim lessons and Make a Splash program, call (727) 787-9622 and ask for Beverly Pizzano.


[Last modified June 13, 2007, 22:15:16]

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