Swimming ability can be critical in keeping water activities safeYMCA offers swim lessons to keep citizens safe; law enforcement shares safety tips
WORTHINGTON — Last week, Brewster resident Jami Cummings saved two people from drowning in Lake Okabena during her lunch break. Meanwhile, in Plymouth, Worthington native Phil Geertsema and his wife, Jennifer, were would-be rescuers of two people in an apartment pool who were not so lucky; both died despite the Geertsemas’ heroic efforts.
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Last week, Brewster resident Jami Cummings saved two people from drowning in Lake Okabena during her lunch break.
Meanwhile, in Plymouth, Worthington native Phil Geertsema and his wife, Jennifer, were would-be rescuers of two people in an apartment pool who were not so lucky; both died despite the Geertsemas’ heroic efforts.
And in mid-July, a young woman died as the result of a boat-jet ski collision on Lake Okabena.
Are any more examples needed to convince folks of the importance of swimming skills and a clear understanding of water safety rules?
“Lots of lakes and hotel or apartment pools don’t have lifeguards, so it’s important to have some basic swimming skills,” stressed Andy Johnson, executive director of the Worthington Area YMCA. “That way, people can at least help themselves or someone else to safety at a moment of danger in the water.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ statistics reveal an unfortunate 2011 trend. As of Saturday, 35 non-boating drownings had occurred in Minnesota, as well as 12 boating fatalities. In all of 2010, the state experienced 34 non-boating drownings and 12 boating fatalities, with even fewer drownings recorded for 2009. With Labor Day still two weeks away, area officials are hoping citizens will pay attention and stay safe.
“If people apply a handful of safety tips, it goes a long way toward avoiding unnecessary tragedy, that’s for certain,” confirmed Gary Nordseth, a 25-year state law enforcement veteran who is currently a state conservation officer in Rock and Nobles counties.
The Worthington Area YMCA/City of Worthington Aquatics Center is the only local option for swimming lessons, and the fall session of classes is set to begin Aug. 29, with classes at all levels available to members and non-members alike.
“You can register through Friday, Aug. 26,” assured Connie Carlson, who began duties as the YMCA’s aquatics director in June. “We always have room for more kids in swimming lessons, and we have new adult lessons, too.
“I’ve had enough requests lately for adult private lessons to start an adult lessons program; I had another person sign up just today,” Carlson said Friday. “I think it’s important for everyone to have at least a little knowledge and ability to be safe around water.
“Minnesota has lakes everywhere, and swimming skills are something you can carry with you from childhood to being a grandparent.”
Johnson, who has directed the local YMCA since 1999, says the facility has a “good track record” with regard to pool safety, but that even the presence of trained lifeguards doesn’t always guarantee complete security.
“Swimming is a learnable skill for anybody,” assured Johnson. “Unfortunately, in Worthington I think we have more non-swimmers than swimmers, and it’s a goal of mine to make sure that everyone can swim by the time they reach middle school.
“The ability to swim is really a gift of safety and lifelong enjoyment, and it’s never too late to learn to swim.”
It’s also rarely too early, with the YMCA scheduling parent/child swim classes for babies as young as six months old.
“Teaching parent/child swim classes was where I got my start in water skills instruction,” explained Carlson, who previously worked at a YMCA in the Des Moines, Iowa, area. “When I first started, I couldn’t believe the babies would do it, but they so quickly learn to put their faces in the water, move their arms and kick, and you can tell when you’re teaching slightly older kids swimming lessons which ones are already comfortable being in the water.”
All of the YMCA’s certified lifeguards are required to attend regular in-service training, and each lifeguard is taught to use an automatic defibrillator, as well as perform first aid and CPR.
“I’m always comforted to know that if something happens in our pools, we have people on our staff who can assist them,” said Johnson. “To be sure, having swimming skills and lifeguards doesn’t always prevent all drownings, but possessing basic swimming skills and having lifeguards around does keep a lot of bad things from happening.”
Wearing life jackets when boating or operating personal watercraft is something Nordseth feels strongly about.
“The comparison I make is, many people who wouldn’t dream of driving without wearing a seatbelt don’t think twice about crossing a lake without wearing a life jacket,” intoned Nordseth. “You can never predict when something might go wrong, and when it does, there is no time to put one on before an emergency occurs.”
Similarly, Nordseth advises people to take extra care when operating jet skis.
“We’ve taken a lot of enforcement action on area lakes with jet skiers,” he warned. “There are real dangers when people do not maintain a proper distance from swimmers, shorelines, docks, anchored boats, things of this nature, and the careless operation of personal watercraft has been an issue, with violations strictly enforced.
“Being on the water can be a lot of fun, but you need to use common sense. We are trying to keep people safe.”
Nordseth, who has seen the results of water tragedies firsthand during his law enforcement career, is happy to share several preventive guidelines:
* Never swim alone
* Never enter water or operate watercraft if you’ve been consuming alcohol
* When swimming in natural bodies of water (lakes, streams), always go in feet first (underwater hazards abound)
* Stay out of fast-moving water, even relatively small creeks (Said Nordseth, “Even with a life jacket, the current can pull you under and a life jacket may not save your life in this kind of situation.”)
* Stay well away from dams on streams and rivers (“There is a lot of undertow on the downstream side of dams, and they can be incredibly dangerous,” offered Nordseth. “They are nicknamed ‘drowning machines.’”)
* Wear a life jacket when boating or operating other watercraft, even if you are a strong swimmer.
For more information about the fall session of swimming lessons, which begins Aug. 29 at the Worthington Area YMCA/City of Worthington Aquatics Center, call 507-376-6197.