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Aquatic centers work to prevent drownings

Expanded swim lessons in Hermiston after early-season drowning in Columbia River
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on June 12, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on June 12, 2018 9:25PM

Pierce Strong, 10, porpoises out of the water while doing the breast stroke during the junior swim team class Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pierce Strong, 10, porpoises out of the water while doing the breast stroke during the junior swim team class Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

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Swimmers pass a 10-pound brick between each other while treading water during a junior lifeguard swim class Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Swimmers pass a 10-pound brick between each other while treading water during a junior lifeguard swim class Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

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Instructor Savanah Sharp, 15, watches as her level 6 class uses paddle boards Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Instructor Savanah Sharp, 15, watches as her level 6 class uses paddle boards Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

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Hayley Mele-Seibel, 15, watches over the multi-use pool during swim lessons Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Hayley Mele-Seibel, 15, watches over the multi-use pool during swim lessons Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

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Mekena Royer talks to her level 1 swim class before taking to the pool Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Mekena Royer talks to her level 1 swim class before taking to the pool Monday at the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center.

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A day at the pool or the beach can be relaxing, but for someone who doesn’t know how to swim, it can quickly turn deadly.

That’s something the staff of local aquatic centers hope to avoid.

The Hermiston Family Aquatic Center is teaching swim lessons to more than 1,700 people this summer, from toddlers to adults. The adult class is new this year, spurred by a recent drowning death of a Umatilla man who jumped into the Columbia River to save his son despite not knowing how to swim.

“It was heartbreaking,” aquatic center manager Kasia Robbins said. “We want to try to prevent it from happening ever again.”

The new class, held Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 8:05 p.m., has attracted participants from ages 17 to 57 (the class is open to ages 16 and up). The HFAC is also offering more children’s lessons than usual this year and as a result still has slots available. Usually the aquatic center has difficulty finding enough summer staff to meet the demand for lessons, but Robbins said this year they have more staff than ever before.

There are two levels of parent and tot classes, for infants and toddlers to get used to the water, followed by six different levels of 25-minute classes. On Monday morning a mix of skill levels were practicing in different parts of the pool. A handful of very young girls were practicing bouncing up and down in a shallow part of the multi-use pool to keep their heads above water, while in the lap pool small groups of elementary school-aged children used kickboards or swam laps.

“The young kids are learning the water safety aspect, when is it safe to get in the water and how to exit and enter,” Robbins said. “Other kids learn how to stay afloat, how a stroke affects their endurance. It really ranges with age.”

On the more advanced end of the spectrum is the hour-long junior lifeguard class, which gives teens a taste of the exercises they would practice to be a lifeguard — potentially lifesaving skills whether they choose to work at a pool next summer or not.

“They’re going over training that lifeguards go through,” recreation supervisor Brandon Artz said. “They get to shadow some too. It’s a good opportunity to learn.”

On Monday morning the junior lifeguard class was treading water in the lap swim pool, passing a 10-pound brick between them with encouragement from instructor Brittin Braithwaite as some students struggled not to sink.

Afterward, she said it was important for lifeguards to build endurance and mental toughness so she tried to push her students to keep going even when they said they were too tired. The HFAC’s real lifeguards have to swim nonstop for one hour each week during their inservice days.

Braithwaite said much of the work the staff at the aquatic center does is preventative, from teaching water skills to asking kids not to run next to the pool.

“People think lifeguards save people from drowning, but really we’re preventing drownings,” she said.

Alysia Garcia, 19, teaches all levels of swim lessons at the HFAC. This is her third year.

“I like working with kids because it gives me practice,” she said. “I want to be a teacher.”

She said most of her lessons are focused on helping kids be safe in the water, so that if they get caught in a current at the beach or venture too far out and get tired they can get to safety or at least stay afloat until they are rescued.

Pendleton Family Aquatic Center also offers a variety of swim lessons to several hundred students of varying levels, and adults can sign up for private lessons. Swim instruction coordinator Mary Wells said there are still open spots and encouraged people to sign their children up if they haven’t already.

“It’s a safety issue,” she said. “You want your kids to be safe.”

Wells said when people reach adulthood without knowing how to swim it can negatively impact their lives, especially in the summer when they are getting invited to go boating, fishing, rafting, or to spend time on the beach.

“Not only can it cause you to be unsafe, and the people around you to be less safe, it also limits your activities,” she said.

She said the aquatic center and all it offers — including multiple levels of swim instruction — is an “amazing” resource for the community that people should not take for granted.

For more information about Pendleton Family Aquatic Center call 541-276-0104 or visit http://www.pendletonparksandrec.com/aquatic-center. For more information about the Hermiston Family Aquatic Center call 541-289-7665 or visit hermistonpool.com.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.









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