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Safety: Summer by the water: Top competitors kick off series of swimming lessons

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

On hot summer days, the cool waters of local waterways and the ocean are enticing.

But before kids can take a dip, safety is of the utmost importance, Amy Monroe, a Mecklenburg Aquatic Club coach, told about 70 children as they swung their legs in Teach My People’s pool.

Monroe spent two hours Wednesday providing safety tips and swimming demonstrations with help from two Olympic-hopefuls, Justine Mueller and Ian Clark. The three swimmers are traveling around the Carolinas this summer to hold Wendy’s Carolina Classic Water Safety classes.

After the athletes provide the first safety course, local swim clubs take over and offer free swim lessons for the children.

In Pawleys Island, the Coastal Aquatic Club will teach two weeks of lessons to Teach My People students.

“In light of Teach My People’s track record, and in light of the Sandy Island tragedy last year, it seemed like something we’d bring to Pawleys,” said David Dear, the Coastal Aquatic Club founder. “I think it’s the perfect audience for this.”

And the audience thought it was perfect, too.

“It’s been a great time with all the excitement, and getting the chance to hang out, it’s been just a blast,” said Kayron Singelton, a sixth-grader.

Singleton and the other students listened quietly as Mueller, and then Clark, introduced themselves.

They didn’t get really excited until Clark grabbed his goggles and jumped in the pool.

Staying underwater, he glided on the pool floor and snuck up on the children to splash them.

“Do it again,” they called.

“He’s swimming like a dolphin at Sea World,” said Carl Falk, chairman of the Teach My People board.

When the splashing stopped, Clark stayed in the pool while Monroe quizzed the children on water safety.

“Did you know that nine people drown in pools every day?” she asked.

They stared at her, wide-eyed.

“North and South Carolina also have the second highest number of incidents of drowning in the United States,” Monroe said.

That’s why, she said, she wanted to give them four safety tips: know how to swim, always swim with a buddy, wear a life jacket and know your swimming limits.

“What would you do if your friend fell in the water?” she asked.

All around the pool the children yelled, “don’t get in!”

Monroe asked Clark to pretend to drown as she pulled out a ring buoy – a large orange flotation ring attached to a rope – and showed the children how to throw it out for someone to catch.

If they don’t have a ring buoy available, she told them to use a towel.

Grabbing her own black and white terry cloth towel, Monroe, twisted it until it resembled a fat rope. She got on her stomach, positioned at an angle on the pool deck, and threw the towel out to Clark, as he flailed and splashed around.

“Remember always to protect yourself first,” Monroe reminded the students.

At the end of the safety lesson, she grabbed a swim cap, filled it with water, and surprised Ahijan Vereen, a first-grader, by plopping it on his head.

“I capped him,” she told the other students when they laughed and squealed.

Vereen grinned and proudly displayed the cap to his friends. He didn’t try to remove it.

In the middle of the commotion, Mueller hopped in the pool and grabbed another cap. With help from Monroe and Clark, they submerged the thin silver rubber and stretched it until it was big enough for Tanisha White, another first-grader, to jump in.

For one second the cap wrapped around her body, cocooning her in the water while Monroe, Mueller and Clark held her up.

“This is the kind of things you can do if you’re on a swim team,” Monroe said. “Does anybody know what four strokes you’d use?”

The students rattled off breast, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle, making Monroe grin.

“Is there anything else?” she asked.

“Cannonball!” yelled Jamie Johnson, a first-grader.

Monroe reminded the students that doing flips into a pool was dangerous.

Next, Clark, Mueller and Adam Dear, a local competitive swimmer, demonstrated the strokes, swimming across the Olympic-size pool in about 13 seconds as the kids cheered, “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Jalaisha Holmes, a third-grader, said she was glad she got to watch the swimmers. She is familiar with pool safety, but she said she might try to sign up for more lessons after watching the swimmers.

Falk said Teach My People will provide whatever the students need to complete the swim lessons because learning how to survive in the water is important.

“We want to make sure every one of our students is safe in the water,” Falk said.

The swim lessons at Teach My People are private, but the Georgetown County YMCA offers lessons for members.

The cost ranges from $30 to $60, but scholarships are available.

For more information, call 545-9622.

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