Swimming Safety

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The intense heat here in the Truckee Meadows is drawing people to the water, but occasionally the results are tragic.

On Thursday, a 19-year-old man nearly drowned at the Sparks Marina. A lifeguard located him in the murky water and pulled him to shore, where medics resuscitated him. This water rescue may have been more dramatic than most, but lifeguards see potentially dangerous behavior around water all the time.

Steve Lintz is the Aquatic Chairman with the Red Cross, and he says lifeguards have to be on high-alert at all times, and pay attention to all levels of the water.

"(Lifeguards) not only guarding the surface of the water you have to guard the bottom,” Linzt says. “You have to worry about people’s abilities, what they're wearing, about the type of toys they are playing with. It's a really difficult job.”

A case in point, Thursday's near-drowning victim was a non-swimmer who reportedly chased a beach ball into deep water. Easy to do in an open water venue like the Marina where the drop off can be sudden. But on any given day, you'll likely find a number of people putting themselves in jeopardy. Lifeguards watch for problems and respond. Most incidents are minor. The potential for real danger is always there.

“Most people don't really understand their abilities,” Lintz says. “So they might be with a group of friends and if a friend is a good swimmer and they're out there in the water, they'll follow them beyond their own capabilities. So people get led astray by friends sometimes. I think parents get led astray by not watching their children closely enough when they're by the water."

Lintz has spent his career teaching people how to take care of themselves in the water and training lifeguards to watch over those who can't.

“Some people are just unaware of a lake when the visibility is poor you don't see drop-offs and you can step in to deep water in one step sometimes,” Lintz says. “So a lot of it is, knowing your own abilities and responding the water and realizing it's a real danger.”

But acquiring those abilities isn't as easy as it once was or perhaps as it still should be.

“A lot of kids coming up are not exposed to swim lessons,” Lintz says.

There are a lot of people who never learned how to swim, like Thursday’s Marina victim. With more kids growing up each year without those skills, it’s a problem that’s growing.

Swimming lessons are available year-round, but not everyone can take part. A decade ago, swimming lessons were part of the local school curriculum, then the school district dropped them. Not all families can afford the additional cost of swimming lessons, though those kids may be growing up without a skill that could some day save their lives.

Ed Pearce, KOLO 8 News