Lifesaving lessons put kids in the deep end
By Roger Belgrave
February 13, 2014
BRAMPTON— Alexa Fairclough is petrified of getting into water above her head, but the 11-year-old takes baby steps to the edge of the pool deck at Earnscliffe Recreation Centre and peers into the deep end.
Clad in a life-jacket, T-shirt and track pants, she forces a headfirst, controlled tumble into the water.
It’s a well-supervised exercise coordinated by the Lifesaving Society of Ontario.
Alexa and other Grade 6 and 7 students at Brampton’s Cardinal Newman Catholic School are participating in the Swim to Survive program.
More than 700 kids in Brampton schools, including Balmoral Senior and Earnscliffe Senior Public Schools, are expected to benefit from the program this year.
The Lifesaving Society has partnered with TransCanada, Peel’s school boards and the City of Brampton to offer lessons.
A $100,000 donation from TransCanada will allow some 10,000 students in about eight Ontario communities to take part in the program that teaches kids the essentials needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water.
“I’m just terrified of deep water,” says Alexa.
Standing poolside, drenched from head to foot, she explains the program’s lessons offered in the water and inside school classrooms have boosted her confidence.
“It makes me feel a bit safer because I don’t really swim a lot outside in the summer,” she says. “If I ever get stuck I would know how to swim.”
Students are taught to roll, tread water and swim with clothes on to simulate real life-threatening situations that can occur around bodies of water.
Aided by lifeguards in a local pool, they first begin to learn while wearing a life-jacket.
Students will roll into the pool headfirst so they know what it’s like to fall into water, feel disorientated and then right themselves, explains Juanita Bueschleb, president of Lifesaving Society Ontario.
“It’s so they know what it feels like to get water up their noses and in their face and be able to get back up to the surface again,” Bueschleb says.
The lessons are a progression, she adds. Students begin wearing life-jackets and eventually work up to maneuvering without the floatation aid and with their clothes on.
“It’s a very different swimming experience to have clothes on,” says Bueschleb.
The program also teaches kids how to help friends who may have accidentally fallen into deep water.
Zsofia Balazs, a deep water marathon swimmer with Canada’s 2012 Olympic team, recently joined a program demonstration in Brampton to help promote the initiative.
“As an open water swimmer I understand what it means to be able to have these safety skills,” she says.
The 23-year-old has been swimming since she was four-years-old and admits to having a healthy fear of the water. She understands all too well how water can overwhelm even the strongest swimmer.
“The water is a force, as much as I want to, I cannot control,” she cautions the kids.
The program is geared to Grade 7 students because it’s considered a time when most kids begin taking risks.
The goal is to equip them with skills and judgment to save themselves and others, says Bueschleb.
“When I was in Grade 1 I used to be afraid of water all the time,” remarks 11-year-old Allen Hernandez Lozano. “I thought I couldn’t do anything (to save myself). Now I know how to rescue a person’s life or my own.”
Photo by Bryon Johnson
Photo by Bryon Johnson