Celebrating 100 Years of Red Cross Aquatics

Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, founder of the Red Cross Water Safety Program and members of the YWCA Life Saving Corps. (Source: Red Cross photo archive.)
Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, founder of the Red Cross Water Safety Program and members of the YWCA Life Saving Corps.

For the past 100 years, the American Red Cross has helped millions of kids, teens and adults learn how to swim and become lifeguards and instructors. In our Northern Minnesota Region last year, more than 47,500 people took Red Cross Learn-to-Swim, lifeguarding or water safety instructor classes.

This month, during the Red Cross Aquatics Centennial, celebrating 100 years of Red Cross water safety education, we’d like to encourage everyone:

  • to make sure that they and their families can swim
  • to know basic water safety
  • to know how to respond to an emergency

We feel a particular urgency for promoting the steps above because a new national survey conducted for the Red Cross found that 80 percent of Americans said they can swim, only 56 percent of those self-described as swimmers can perform all five basic, or “water competency,” skills for swimming ability:

  • step or jump into the water over your head
  • return to the surface and float or treat water for one minute
  • turn around in a full circle and find an exit
  • swim 25 yards to the exit
  • exit from the water; if from a pool, exit without using a ladder
New survey shows only 56 percent of self-described swimmers know water competency skills.
New survey shows only 56 percent of self-described swimmers know water competency skills.

Overall, the survey found that 54 percent of all Americans can’t swim or don’t have basic swimming ability. Moreover, only 33 percent of African-Americans reported having swimming, or some basic water skills. While 51 percent of white Americans reported the same.

The numbers do not lie. There is a great need for people to take steps for learning how to swim. And so, during our aquatics centennial, the Red Cross kicks off a campaign that seeks to cut the drowning rates in half in 50 cities in 19 states. This campaign will take place in 10 cities this year and expand to all 50 cities in the years ahead.

Here’s some good news: Minnesota is not among the 19 states. Why? It has a low drowning rate compared to other states. And yet, 40 people drowned in non-boating water emergencies in 2012 (most recent reported year from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources). You can help bring down that number.

Adults and children should know how to be safe in the water. In the land of more than 11,800 lakes as well as more than 6,500 rivers and streams…and who knows how many swimming pools…parents and swimmers should learn about water safety and know how to respond to an emergency. To find an aquatics center offering Red Cross swim classes near you, click here. To find other health and safety, such as CPR and First Aid, click here.

Have a great summer!

*The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross April 17-20, 2014 using ORC International’s Online CARAVAN omnibus survey.

Teen Swimmer Saves A Life

During swim practice in River Falls, Wisconsin, Becca Thomas, a 15-year-old trained lifeguard, noticed that there was something wrong with her teammate, Marissa Metzler, a 12-year-old in the lane next to her.

Becca Thomas (l) and her mom Shelley Thomas (r) outside of their home in Rollins, Wisconsin.

“There was a split second where my brain was saying ‘what’s going on, why isn’t she swimming?'” says Becca. What she didn’t know at the time was Marissa’s heart had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. After briefly thrashing around, Marissa’s body went limp and lifeless.

Becca responded in seconds. She swam over and, keeping Marissa’s head out of the water, brought her to edge of the pool where their coach helped pull Marissa out of the pool and onto the pool deck. There, Becca and a couple of her teammates tipped Marissa’s head upward to clear the airway. When they couldn’t find a pulse, 911 was immediately called.

Becca’s teammates, who are also CPR certified, sprang into action and together they began the life-saving skills necessary to keep Marissa alive. They started chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing before grabbing an AED, (automated external defibrillator). The AED was administered to Marissa’s chest and delivered an electric shock to her heart twice to try and re-establish a heartbeat.  Becca took over handling chest compressions at that time and Marissa began to come to. Shortly after, the River Falls ambulance paramedics arrived and took over.

“In the moment I didn’t think about what was happening, I just did what I needed to do,” says Becca, “But then afterward, all I could think is ‘oh my goodness’ as it all sunk in.” She left the pool that night feeling tired both emotionally and physically. The following Sunday at church she was greeted with an overwhelming support of friends who congratulated her and were encouraged by what had happened. All the glory goes to God, says Becca, for her being in the right place at the right time.

Becca’s mom, Shelley Thomas, tears up when talking about her daughter’s heroic actions. “I’m so thankful that I had her do the Red Cross training.” Shelley takes CPR training every year and believes in passing this practice to future generations, just as her mom encouraged her. She hopes to inspire others with this story of her daughter’s bravery and wants them to know that, “CPR is good training to have, please take it.”

Becca was the youngest person, by many years she says, during her Red Cross lifeguard and CPR courses that previous summer. On her first day of class, when they went around the room doing introductions, many people stated that they were taking the training for their job or other reasons. “I was the only one who didn’t really have a reason to be there, other than the fact that my mom wanted me to take it. The training really isn’t that much busy work and you’re in the water almost every day practicing life-saving skills.” And because Becca was equipped with the skills necessary to save Marissa’s life, Marissa and Becca were able to visit each other recently and celebrate Marissa’s thirteenth birthday.

Many people agree that a CPR class can make the difference between life and death, including Denise Metzler, Marissa’s mom. When the Red Cross contacted Denise and told her that Becca has the potential to receive a American Red Cross Certificate of Merit Award, she cried and said “I just hope more people get CPR trained.”

Click here to find your local CPR training location today.

(Story and photo by Megan Barnes/American Red Cross)