From my years as a competitive swimmer I knew a tired swimmer was not a good swimmer

By Olivia Wolf

In my nineteen years of life, I had never been scared of drowning. But, I never realized how easily it could happen until this past spring.

I have always loved the water. Growing up, I swam competitively for 10 years and relished anytime I got to jump into a pool, lake or ocean. After the restrictions started to lift towards the beginning of last fall, I decided to rekindle my love of the water and join my university’s surf club at St. Andrews, Scotland. I had never surfed before, but with my long swim history, I figured I would feel close to home in any water sport.

“I have always loved the water.” Olivia, pictured poolside, always was a strong swimmer and was comfortable keeping herself afloat. Submitted photo.

I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Over one hundred other students at my university also had the same idea. So, when I finally snagged an opening on a surfing excursion this past February, I jumped on the opportunity.

The day of the excursion was cold but clear. I biked down to the surf shed and met with everyone else who had also managed to land a surf slot. We changed into thick wetsuits and booties to protect us from the North Sea temperatures, grabbed our boards, and headed towards the sea. Because the sky was clear, I thought that the water would only have two to three-foot swells, but as we walked toward the beach, I could hear the roar of crashing waves. When we finally crested the dunes, we were met with five-foot swells all along the beach. The leader of our surf group saw the nerves on our faces and explained to us that all we had to do was paddle through the rough surf and reach the calm spot beyond the breaking waves. He pointed out to another group of surfers sitting on their boards. We watched as one of them paddled out from this calmer area to the breaking point and caught a wave into shore. At this point, any nerves I had at the prospect of such big swells had turned into excitement at the possibility of catching my first big wave.

At the beginning of the year, we attended surf lessons with the club and were taught how to safely duck under big waves with our boards. This came in handy as we set out into the water. It felt like every 15 seconds, I had to duck under another massive wave. Finally, I made it to the calm water beyond the breaking waves. My arms ached, but I was still excited to try and catch a big wave. I rested for a bit in the calm water, trying to regain my strength. After a while, I spotted a promising wave. I lined myself up and started paddling to try and catch it. Just as I finally felt comfortable enough to try and stand up, my weight shifted, and I tumbled off the board.

“Growing up, I swam competitively for 10 years and relished anytime I got to jump into a pool, lake, or ocean.” Olivia, pictured on the right. Submitted photo.

As soon as I entered the water, I was tossed around like clothes in a washing machine. I didn’t know which I was up or down. When I finally felt the pressure of the wave release, I came up sputtering for air, only to have to duck down again to avoid the next wave crashing right on top of me. I managed to swim to my board and start the long journey of paddling back out beyond the breaking point. It took me twice as long as the first time to reach the calm section of the water and my arms were even more drained. Still I was excited and waited patiently on my board for a second chance at a big wave. I repeated the process, lining up and paddling to try and catch a good wave, and this time I managed to get to my knees before falling off the board. I was immediately shoved under and somersaulted through the water before breaking the surface again. I was able to spot my board but didn’t have time to swim for it before another wave crashed right on top of me. After two more waves passed, I was finally able to grab my board but after being tossed around in the sea I hardly had the energy to do more that hold on to the side of the board and float. At this point, I had a crucial decision to make, try to paddle back out against the harsh waves as my strength faded or point my board towards the shore and try and catch a less powerful wave to the sand.

The skyline of St. Andrews viewed across the East Sands. Photo credit: Val Vannet / St. Andrews from Kinkell Braes / CC BY-SA 2.0

I made the decision to paddle back to shore. From my years as a competitive swimmer I knew a tired swimmer was not a good swimmer and I didn’t want to take my chances. I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I had to pick my board up and carry it back to the surf shed. I could barely lift the board and couldn’t even manage to pull off my tight wet suit booties when I tried to change back into dry clothes. It wasn’t until I called my mom to report on my experience that I realized I had come close to drowning. It was only after my mother had said, “Thank goodness you didn’t drown! A couple more waves, and you might not have come back up!” that the seriousness of the situation struck me. She was right. A couple more waves and tumbles, and I don’t know if I would have had the strength to keep my head above the surface. I had always imagined drowning as someone waving around for help, not quietly slipping beneath a wave.

The only reason that my experience ended well that day, and I never once thought drowning was a possibility, was because I had the skills to bring me to safety. I was a strong swimmer and was comfortable keeping myself afloat. I wore a wetsuit to protect myself from cold water shock. I hadn’t gone in the water by myself. I was at least one of ten people out on the water that day. I had told my roommate where I was going and when to expect me back. But that one decision, to stay in the water and paddle back or head for shore, was the major decision that decided my safety on that day. If I had chosen to paddle back out and try and catch another wave, I can not confidently say that I would be here writing this article today, despite all the other safe choices I had made.

I know many of you will not be braving the North Sea cold to try to catch big surf. However, I hope my experience illustrates how strong swimming abilities and strong water safety knowledge can provide happy endings to potentially dangerous water situations. Without these two skills, any experience with water can be just as close a call as mine. So, I encourage everyone to start their journey towards becoming strong swimmers or brush up on their water safety as summer rounds the corner so that everyone can enjoy the lake, pool, or ocean this summer.

The Red Cross offers a free Swim app that helps families and kids have fun while learning about water safety.

A great place to start is on the Red Cross website! We offer lots of great resources, from swim lessons for children and adults to a free Swim app that helps families and kids have fun learning about water safety. On our website, you can find Red Cross partner swim lessons that are being offered near you and find lessons for parents about children’s water safety. In addition, the Swim app has videos and activities to make learning about water safety more engaging for young children. You can even track your kids’ progress, allowing them to earn badges as they learn to swim.

Resources like these make water safety more accessible than ever, so please don’t hesitate to take a look! One more person who learns how to be a safe swimmer is one more person whose story ends like mine, safely on shore.

Olivia Wolf is an American Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota and Dakotas Region. She’s attending university in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Every second counts during a cardiac arrest. Students and adults can save lives by knowing how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Take the example of Dickinson High School student Anika Sayler in North Dakota. She learned CPR during her freshman PE 9 class. Learn more about the class and Sayler’s response to an emergency from a story published in The Dickinson Press in last spring.

Story and photos by Jackie Jahfetson, The Dickinson Press

When a Dickinson teen stumbled upon the scene of a rollover crash on April 19, she immediately hopped out of her vehicle and rushed over to one of the individuals who was lying on the ground and unresponsive. Though another person who arrived at the scene before her was performing CPR, she knew that it was not the correct way she was taught in her freshman PE 9 class. So she mustered the confidence to take over and save that man’s life.

With a short video from the American Red Cross, a Dickinson High School freshman performs CPR during Tina Pavlicek’s PE 9 class Friday, April 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 

Though Dickinson High School junior Anika Sayler noted in a previous article that she never believed she’d use those skills she learned her freshman year, it was evident that the course is teaching students with valuable and natural instincts.

For Dickinson High School teacher Tina Pavlicek, who’s been teaching PE 9 for the past 14 years, hearing Sayler’s lifesaving story was inspirational.

“I personally enjoy teaching it because I feel like it’s such valuable information,” Pavlicek said. “… (Sayler’s story) gave me a really great feeling knowing that she used something that she learned in our freshman CPR course and had the confidence to do that and save that man’s life. I got emotional telling the class about it because it’s really a great thing.”

PE 9 is a required course for all Dickinson High School freshmen that is taught by Pavlicek and DHS teacher Tom Gray. The CPR unit consists of a 10-day lesson plan with seven chapters, with Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays focusing on CPR, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are gym activities. Stretching the material into different days allows for students to retain the information, Pavlicek said, adding that she does not want the course to be an information overload.

Chapters one through four highlight the “before giving care,” which includes CPR, using automated external defibrillators and handling choking situations. Toward the end of the nine-week quarter-long course, students will study sudden illnesses, such as diabetic emergencies, seizures, strokes and allergic reactions, and learn how to deal with burns, external severe bleeding and injuries to muscles, bones and joints. The final chapter covers heat- and cold-related illnesses and other environmental emergencies such as poisonings, bites and stings.

“Usually we’ll do a reading of a chapter out loud; there’s video clips through the American Red Cross that we’re required to show throughout the reading. And then we get the mannequins out and they get to do the hands-on portion as well,” Pavlicek said. “So they get to hear it, they get to see it and they get to practice it, which I feel is a good way to hit all of the learning styles.”

A freshman student at Dickinson High School walks through the tutorial of CPR Friday, April 23, 2021, during PE 9 class. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 
Utilizing skills learned through Dickinson High School Tina Pavlicek’s PE 9 course, freshman students perform CPR on mannequin Friday, April 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 

This course teaches people to handle stressful, emergency situations, and it’s something that will stick with DHS freshman Isabel Kirsch.

“(This helps) knowing what to do under pressure (and if) you see something happen really fast. Before I wouldn’t really know what to do, I’d just panic. But I know what kind of steps to follow,” Kirsch said. “I think (when) you’re at the age where you can start taking care of younger kids more or your grandparents (and) if something were to happen, you’ll know what to do.”

DHS freshman Jake Skabo has learned over the course of nine weeks the basic signs and symptoms of knowing when and when not to perform CPR.

“(I’ve enjoyed) working on the mannequins out there because I like to do hands-on learning,” Skabo said.

Once students finish the course, the American Red Cross requires that all students have to pass all six tests with an 80% or higher and perform all of the skill portions of the class. Students then have the option at the end of the program to pay $32 for a CPR card and become certified, which is good for two years until recertification.

With usually around 50 students each quarter, five to 10 students pay to get their certification. Though Pavlicek doesn’t encounter a large number of students who want to get CPR certified, she noted that at least students will still be trained in it.

“Just like Anika’s story, you never know when you’re going to be in a situation where you may need it. It may be a family member, it might be a stranger along the roadside that needs your help. It’s just a lot of information or giving them the confidence to be able to respond in an emergency situation if it occurs,” Pavlicek added.

This story was originally published on April 26, 2021. It’s re-published here with permission from the The Dickinson Press. Thank you! We encourage all who are able to learn basic lifesaving skills. Learn more here.

Holiday safety in Minne-snow-ta

In Minnesota, the holiday season requires us to be extra cautious. While holiday cooking and decorations increase risks of fire and injury, the winter weather conditions create additional hazards on the roads. For example, every year across the country there are on average more than 150,000* crashes due to icy roads. With the spirit of safety first, we offer below some helpful tips for a fabulous and fun holiday season.

Roads

1. Keep a windshield scraper and emergency kit including food and warm clothing in your vehicle.

2. Test your car battery. As temperature drops, battery power drops as well.

3. Allow extra time to drive to your destination. Not only will there be more traffic than usual, but it is safest to drive more slowly on snowy roads.

4. Practice braking on icy roads in an empty parking lot.

5. Check tire pressure and tread life. Consider installing winter tires.

Homes

1. Check all smoke alarms to verify that there is a working smoke alarm on each level of the home. Review your home fire escape plan.

2. Turn off decorative lights and blow out candles before leaving the house or going to sleep.

3. Remain in the kitchen while something is cooking.

4. Wash hands and cook food to safe minimum standards to avoid food poisoning.

5. Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from hot ovens and stove tops.

For immediate access to weather updates and information on treating common first aid emergencies, download the American Red Cross Emergency App for free.

*Source: NHTSA and Federal Highway Administration

3 Things To Do Before Fourth of July Weekend

We’re thinking ahead, and we hope you will, too, because we have three things for you to do before the Fourth of July weekend arrives. So, let’s get started…

One: Download the Red Cross First Aid App 

This free and helpful app for your smartphone gives you instant access to the most common first aid emergencies like cuts, burns, and eye injuries. The app is free. Download it now from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Or text GETFIRST to 90999.

Two: Brush Up On Fireworks Safety

Photo: Tony Webster, Portland, OR / Wikimedia Commons

The best way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks show presented by professionals. Here are five safety steps for people setting fireworks off at home:

  1. Never give fireworks to small children, and always follow the instructions on the packaging.
  2. Keep a supply of water close by as a precaution.
  3. Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
  4. Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”
  5. Never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials.

Three: Prepare for Grilling Safely

Every year people are injured while using charcoal or gas grills. Here are several steps to safely cook up treats for the backyard barbecue:

  1. Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
  2. Never grill indoors – not in the house, camper, tent, or any enclosed area.
  3. Make sure everyone, including the pets, stays away from the grill.
  4. Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches, or anything that could catch fire.
  5. Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill to keep the chef safe.

Have a fun and safe Fourth of July Weekend! 

Photo: Marko Kokic / American Red Cross

 

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