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Monday, August 22, 2005

Tragedies make us think about inflatibles, inexperienced swimmers

THERE'S A pall over our communities this week that will be very tough to shake.

The drowing deaths of a 6-year-old boy and a 35-year-old native son of Stayner in two separate incidents underscore just how fragile life is.

Our effort to make sense of, and learn from, these tragedies has caused some discussion.


One is a question about how often inflatable toys - air mattresses, beach balls, dingys and rafts - lead to tragedy.

MNR officials at Wasaga Beach will tell you that swimmers regularly get into trouble trying to manage off-shore winds on an inflatible of some sort.

In 2003, a father lost his life after successfully bringing his daughter to shore. She had drifted out on an air mattress and got into trouble trying to swim for shore.

We don't know precisely what happened on the weekend when Rob Swanton, 35, went into the water. We do know he was trying to retrieve a dingy that had drifted away from shore.

For every tragedy there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of examples of pure family fun with beach toys. They encourage young swimmers, they amuse and occupy the time of bored kids. The laughter of children pushing and shoving one another off of air mattresses or the sqeals of a child floating for the first time under the security of an inflatable ring are measures of summer fun.

I don't think it's possible to do away with inflatibles, but I think we do need to view them in a new light - as a potential threat to our kids and ourselves.

The drowning death of six-year-old Terry Thanthaik has revived the discussion about the need for mandatory swimming lessons for all young children.

The young man is reported to have had a few swimming lessons - apparently enough to have created some confidence about going back into the water. His family clearly thought he wouldn't venture back in after being dressed but the T-shirt found on the sand suggests otherwise.

In this case and the sad tale of two young boys who lost their lives at Belwood Lake Conservation Area last month, a lack of familiarity with the potential dangers of the water and a lack of any self-saving training may have been key factors. Calvin Le, 7, and Larry Le, 9 died after three brothers rushed into the water and all three got into trouble.

It seems that all of these young children had little exposure to swimming and a school-based, mandatory swimming and lifesaving program may well have made the difference.


- - -
Sunday, while at a family cottage near Meaford, I plopped down on a comfortable lounger beside my wife who was camped out in a hammock. It had been a long night and an early morning and I could feel my eyelids starting grow heavy. But I saw her eyes closing so I sat upright and fixed my eyes on the sandy shore where my four-year-old daughter scooped sand into a pail with on old plastic spoon.

My nap can wait I said to myself, fighting off the urge to let down my guard. I needed to see her and be there the moment she got in too far.

She didn't.

But I slept well that night - something that won't come easily for the families drawn unexpectedly into these tragedies.

Larry Culham is managing editor for The Sun. Your comments and feedback are welcome at sunnews@simcoe.com.

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