I nearly drowned at age five.
I was at a waterpark, went down a slide and landed face-down, stuck in my inner tube. I was underwater for nearly 30 seconds before being saved. My mother reacted — not by keeping me out of the water — but by enrolling me in swimming lessons.
I went on to win four swimming medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Since retiring from competitive swimming, I’ve made it my mission to improve water safety, particularly for children and those of color, which are at even higher risk of drowning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the U.S. there are an estimated 4,000 fatal drownings and 8,000 nonfatal drownings. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in U.S. children ages 1 to 4 years, and the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in children and adolescents ages 5 to 19 years, behind motor vehicle crashes.
The risk is greatest for African American and Latino children, who learn to swim at a lower rate than Caucasian children and who also drown at a higher rate.
The CDC lists the following leading causes of drowning fatalities: subpar swimming skills, lack of pool barriers, lack of supervision, alcohol use, and having a seizure disorder.
Children are irresistibly drawn to water, whether it’s a backyard pool, a pond, or a river. It’s better to teach them how to be safe in the water than to instruct them to avoid it and hope they listen. Learning to be safe and at ease in the water also opens up a whole new world of recreational and athletic possibilities, such as boating, fishing and competitive swimming, among others.
Most drownings occur in residential pools, which means safety should be foremost in the mind of every pool owner.
Here are three ways to enjoy your pool safely this season:
Learn to Swim
There is no better way to be safe in the water than to learn to swim. And I mean really swim. People tend to overestimate their ability. Simply put, if you can’t cross the length of the pool without touching the bottom, you can’t swim.
The earlier you learn, the better. Four years old is generally the youngest age to begin swimming lessons, though water safety instruction can begin well before that. I had my son in the water at six months old just to get him accustomed to the pool environment and the water and help him be at ease before starting official swim lessons.
While many people have been taught to swim by family members or on their own, the safest and most effective way is through lessons taught by trained and certified instructors under the guidelines of such organizations as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Red Cross and the YMCA. Lessons are the best way to determine your limits and learn everything you need to know to be safe in the water. You will learn how to help others who might be in danger in the water, too.
Important note: lessons aren’t just for children. Non-swimming adults shouldn’t be deterred. It’s never too late to learn how to swim. And adults who know how to swim usually make sure their children learn how as well.
In fact, in a recent Leslie’s-commissioned Harris Poll involving 2,000 American parents, 41% of the parents of children under 18 say they themselves don’t know how to swim with 69%, seven in nine of those polled, haven’t taken swimming lessons. Nearly half of the parents of children under 18 say their child does not know how to swim and 61% say their child has not taken swimming lessons.
Secure the Area
Photo courtesy of LOOP-LOC
As I already mentioned, children are drawn to water, and it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure their pool is safely secured.
It’s a mistake to assume that the only ones using the pool will be family and invited guests. Children will enter yards without permission and even climb fences to get in the water, sometimes when no one is home. It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to prevent those intrusions.
There are a variety of safety measures pool owners can use and it’s important to have multiple layers of protection. At minimum, all pools should be fenced with gates that lock and sound an alarm when opened. Gates should always open away from the pool, never pushing in towards the pool. Safety covers can be put in place when the pool is not in use and alarms can detect when someone is in the water. Toddlers who aren’t allowed in the pool can be outfitted with alarms that sound when they get wet.
Of course, there is no substitute for adult supervision. No child should swim without an adult present and paying attention.
Lastly, pool owners should know that not all injuries happen in the water. Swimming pool falls caused by slick surfaces are common. Malfunctioning ladders and defective diving boards can cause injury. The pool area should be checked for hazards and equipment should be replaced or repaired when needed.
A backyard pool is an oasis, a place where family and friends can relax and have fun. Following these three critical safety measures – tenets of water safety – will go a long way toward ensuring everyone’s safety and enjoyment.
Test and Maintain the Water
Unhealthy water is a less apparent danger than drowning, but it also poses a risk.
Pool water can be unclean and imbalanced even if it looks fine. Unhealthy water can cause swimming-related diseases with symptoms such as stomach issues, skin rashes, ear pain, cough or congestion and eye pain.
Most people don’t balance and sanitize their water frequently enough. It’s important to shock the pool at least once a week, in addition to using a daily primary sanitizer to keep your sanitizer levels within the recommended ideal range. Once the pool is open and in use, it’s easy to neglect maintenance. Testing and balancing should be done weekly, depending on the pool and usage. Leslie’s make it free, fast and easy. They offer a comprehensive 10-point in-store water testing service that is complimentary and delivers a water health score and corresponding treatment plan in just 60 seconds.
Well-maintained equipment like cleaners and filters make it easier to keep the water clean, safe and enjoyable. This will give you, your family and friends the confidence to enjoy the pool without fear of getting ill.
About the Author:
Cullen Jones is a four-time Olympic medalist and the first African American swimmer to hold a world record. He nearly drowned at age five in a water park in Pennsylvania and after that incident his mother enrolled him in swim lessons, and it soon became clear that Jones had natural talent as a swimmer. He dedicates a significant portion of his time to his role as a water safety advocate. He is a partner of Leslie’s, the most trusted consumer brand in the U.S. pool and spa care industry, as the voice of water safety, especially during May, Water Safety Month, and across the entire swim season.