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By: Mary Rooks McMahon ’77 // MDS Musing Blog

Mary Rooks and Mark McMahon, 1977

About the Author: Mary swam competitively until her family moved to Macon when she was 16. There was not a swim team when she attended MDS, so she started the first year-round swimming group in Macon through the Macon Waves, which also turned into a part-time job while she was a student. Over the years, Mary has taught swim lessons to hundreds of children and a few adults. She coached for eleven years and had one swimmer break and hold three world records for totally blind swimmers in what was known as the World Handicapped Games of 1980, now the Paralympics.

Recently, my sister and I were discussing my retirement from coaching the MDS swim team and our first memories of swimming.  My first swimming memory was as a three-year-old, swimming from one side of my pregnant mother to the other, along the pool wall. I remember feeling accomplished! At age five, I joined a swim team, began swim lessons, and have felt fearless in clear water since!

This discussion prompted me to ask my lifeguard trainees their earliest memories of swimming. Surprisingly, three of the nine folks had experienced near-drowning or distressed swimming as small children. In one case, the tiny non-swimmer fell off a float while in the deep end of the pool. In another situation, the swimmer was jostled by some boys that were rough-housing and got into water above her comfort level. The last, unfortunately, was held underwater by some not-so-very-nice family members and still has fear in certain situations in the water.

In every one of these scenarios, there is a swimming rule that was or wasn’t being followed:

  • Keep little swimmers within arm’s reach.
  • Swimming lessons from an early age are important.
  • Children who cannot swim should never be allowed in water in which they cannot comfortably stand, even when (ESPECIALLY WHEN) they are using a flotation device or water wings/swimmies. The child can fall out of or off the float, or the device can fail.  If parents are attentive and within arm’s reach, those devices may be okay.
  • Rough-housing at any pool should not be allowed. We used to play “chicken” (where one child is riding the shoulders of another while fighting an opposing duo with the goal of pulling the rider off). Not only does this game jeopardize the safety of those wrestling, but it puts other children nearby at risk. A shove in the wrong direction can lead to drowning for someone who is pushed into water that is too deep. Stick to a good old game of “Marco Polo.”
  • Breath-holding competitions of any sort (voluntarily or forced) are extremely dangerous. Shallow-water blackouts, where a person loses consciousness in the water and subsequently drowns, are preventable.  To drive home the point that this can happen to anyone and is something no one should do, take a look at this video: The Whitner Milner Story. 

Some of the old standbys still hold true:

  • Do not run on a pool deck.
  • Do not dive into the shallow end.
  • Do not dive off the board until the area below is clear.
  • One should apply sun screen every 30 minutes when swimming outdoors.

One rule is no longer considered valid—the old “wait 30 minutes until after you eat to swim or you may get cramps and drown.” The misunderstanding of this tale is that one may get cramps due to eating. In reality, eating (and drinking plenty of water), can help you avoid getting cramps.

Swimming is a lifelong activity that can bring you lots of healthy fun. If you do not know how to swim, please find a pool in your area and take lessons. If you have children or grandchildren, get them signed up for a series of lessons so that they are comfortable in the water and can enjoy it. Your goal is for them to feel accomplished in the water so that you can be fearless when it’s time to let them swim on their own. And if you’re in Macon, make sure they learn all the strokes so they can swim on the mighty Mount de Sales Cavalier Swim Team!

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