By LaKeshia N. Myers
I have a confession to make, I can’t swim. I took swim lessons as a child, but I don’t think they stuck. I enjoy going to the pool and having an occasional frolic in the ocean, but I can’t swim well at all. I am not alone, according to a study by the American Red Cross, they found that while eighty percent of Americans said they could swim, only fifty-six percent of the self-described “swimmers” could perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.
This is why the month of May is Water Safety Awareness Month. The goal of Water Safety Awareness Month is to help Americans learn critical water safety skills, also known as “water competency,”– the ability to: step or jump into the water over your head; return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute; turn around in a full circle and find an exit; swim twenty-five yards to the exit; and exit from the water. If in a pool, you must be able to exit without using the ladder (American Red Cross, 2014).
About one in three (thirty-three percent) African Americans reported that they can perform all five basic swimming skills, compared to fifty-one percent of whites. The survey showed that eighty-four percent of whites and sixty-nine percent of African Americans say they can swim. Just four in ten parents of children ages 4-17 report that their child can perform all five basic swimming skills, yet more than nine in 10 (92 percent) say that their child is likely to participate in water activities this summer (American Red Cross, 2014).
Water safety awareness is very important, because according to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the United States there are an estimated four thousand fatal unintentional drownings—that is an average of eleven drowning deaths per day. Eight thousand nonfatal drownings occur each year on average—that is an average of twenty-two nonfatal drownings per day. These numbers often rise in the spring and summer months as public pools open for the season and swimming becomes more frequent in bodies of water.
I am encouraging all Wisconsinites to join me in learning how to swim this summer (that’s right, I’m facing my fear and learning how to swim). I encourage families to contact Milwaukee Public Schools Recreation Department (414) 475-8180 or the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee (414-354-9622) to sign up for summer swim classes. Together, we can make a splash towards water safety.