Elizabeth Flentje,6,was one of the first to arrive. After signing in,Elizabeth dipped her big toe in the cold water,sending small ripples across the surface.
Elizabeth has been taking swim lessons since she was 18 months old,but Thursday’s lesson would be special. She and 24 others at the Ocean Dunes Water Park were trying to break a world record for the world’s largest swimming lesson. They will know in a few days if they bested last year’s record of 19,322 participants at 235 locations.
In hundreds of pools and water parks in 24 countries,thousands of swimmers went for a dip at 11 a.m. EDT for a 40-minute lesson in basic swimming techniques and pool safety.
“If you don’t know how to swim,we have plenty of people who can teach you,” Kelly Koster,park specialist at the water park,said. “Anyone can learn no matter how old they are.”
The event was sponsored by the World Waterpark Association in partnership with PoolSafely.gov,a campaign by the Consumer Product Safety Commission,to educate and bring attention to pool safety as summer approaches.
According to the CPSC,nearly 400 children younger than 5 drown each year,with deaths spiking during the summer. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death in 5-year-olds and is the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14.
Rep. James Moran,D-Va.,attended the event to talk about pool safety and the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act,which requires the CPSC to educate consumers on pool safety.
“There are few things more preventable than a drowning death,” Moran said. “We’ve got to teach kids how to swim because it’s good exercise and it’s fun.”
Nearby,Elizabeth and the other swimmers listened to the congressman,but had their eyes on the water. Moran said he couldn’t swim because he had a luncheon to attend.
When the time was right,two lifeguards blew their whistles and instructor Kenny Wisor,20,started the lesson. After some basic safety instructions – don’t run near the pool,no food or gum in the pool,wear plenty of sunscreen – Wisor was ready to take the lesson to the water.
“All right,are we ready to get wet?” he asked. “I know it’s chilly,but we’ll get started ASAP.”
The 24 swimmers,including children and some adults,slipped into the pool,shivering.
“None of us have capes – I wish we did – but we’re going to float like Superman,” Wisor said,stretching his arms out and floating on his stomach.
Wisor said he was surprised about how quickly the swimmers caught on. He’s been teaching swimming lessons for nearly six years.
“Water safety is the number one concern,I believe,in the world,” Wisor said. “Even if you’re not a good swimmer,as long as you know the basics or what to do,if you came across that emergency,that’s all that you would need to know.”
Reach reporter Charles Scudder at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.