In the September 2017 issue I wrote about my experience of appearing on BBC Breakfast Television to talk about water safety. Alongside me was Rebecca Ramsay, whose son, Dylan, drowned in a quarry in 2011 when he was 13 years old. Rebecca has since campaigned to improve water safety, making presentations in schools and talking to local and national media. I asked her to tell us more about what she does.
What are the main points you would like people to be aware of?
My messages differ depending on the audience. When I speak to children and teenagers there is one simple rule: “No lifeguard: No swimming”. If they want to experience open water swimming they should go to an organised event. Lifesaving equipment should be available with people on hand who know how to deal with a situation if one arose. I try and ensure the children and teens I speak to understand the differences between a swimming pool and a body of open water.
To young adults, I say it does not matter how fit a person is, open water can take the best of swimmers. Swimming capability in a pool often makes no difference to whether a person lives or dies where open water is concerned. This age group needs to understand that they are not invincible. There are specific skills required to swim in open water. Just being able to swim in a pool is not enough.
With an adult audience I ask if they have made their children aware of the dangers in and around open water. I would never want another person to live with the guilt of not teaching their children about the dangers, such as cold water shock, if they were to unexpectedly fall in to water.
What can outdoor swimmers do to reduce the number of people who drown each year?
Swimmers sharing their own experiences of where something has gone wrong and how it was put right would hold a lot of weight. Even experienced open water swimmers sometimes get into trouble but these incidents usually stay very low key. Why not talk about them more so people can learn from your experiences?
In addition, experienced swimmers will know that a water safety poster, campaign, article or whatever is not aimed at them yet some of them will say things that contradict the message. For example, they will respond to a reservoir safety campaign by saying that reservoirs are great places to swim. That does not help when the aim of the campaign is to keep people safe. A better approach would be to direct people to safe and supervised swimming places rather than undermine the campaign.
You have received unpleasant comments from outdoor swimmers. How would you like to reply?
Many open water swimmers have demonstrated their support of what I am doing but, unfortunately, one group of swimmers actually saw me and my campaign as a challenge. Amazing, believing that a grieving mother trying to make a difference in memory of her son was a challenge. I have no issues with open water swimming if it is done safely. However, I am never going to advocate just jumping in a body of open water. My son died and year after year I hear of more families suffering the pain of losing a loved one. The saddest thing is that we know so much about drowning and the effects of cold water. I miss my son more than words can say and my aim is to try and ensure as few people as possible have to live with this nightmare I now call life. There is no cure for losing a child. Prevention of drowning through awareness and education is the only way.
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