Do you really know how to swim?

water-safety-infographic-2015_lowresMany people believe they know how to swim. But in reality, the really don’t, especially children and teens. Last year the American Red Cross released survey results revealing something quite shocking: more than 60 percent of youth are unable to perform all five basic water competency skills.  To reduce this life-threatening statistic, the Red Cross has launched a national campaign to reduce drownings in half by 50 percent during a three to five year period. In Minnesota, that would mean cutting the number of non-boating accident drownings from an average of 40 per year to 20.

Additional key survey findings include:

  • Nearly a fifth (18 percent) of adults who are not able to perform all five water safety skills expect to supervise a child near water this summer.
  • Fear is listed as the top reason for not learning how to swim both as a child and as an adult.
  • Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) report that they have had an experience where they were afraid they might drown.
  • Near-drowning experiences are more common among young adults (ages 18-24). And younger Americans are also more likely than those in any other age group to report that they know someone who nearly drowned (36 percent).

To learn more and to test your swim skills before you hit the water, click here.
To find classes for your family, contact your local swim facility or click here.

Red Cross awards Wisconsin teen the Certificate of Merit

Story and photos by Andrea Bredow/American Red Cross Volunteer

COM Photo
Becca Thomas (c) used her lifesaving skills when she noticed River Falls Swim Club teammate Marissa Metzler chest up and unconscious in a pool.

Three Wisconsin teens put their lifesaving skills to use one early morning at swim practice back in 2012. Becca Thomas used her Red Cross lifeguarding skills when she noticed River Falls Swim Club teammate Marissa Metzler chest up and unconscious in the pool.  Becca rushed into action and immediately got Marissa out of the pool.

From there it was a team effort. Jon Heiniger began chest compressions while his mother, Sonja, did the mouth-to-mouth portion of the rescue. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Ben Heiniger ran for the AED. All of that took place within a minute.

Fast thinking and Red Cross lifeguard training saved Marissa’s life. Their heroic actions earned Becca Thomas the national Red Cross Certificate of Merit, and Jon, Sonja and Ben awarded the Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action.

The Red Cross awards about 100 Certificates of Merit each year across the country.
The American Red Cross awards about 100 Certificates of Merit each year across the country.

The Red Cross awards about 100 Certificates of Merit each year across the country. The Certificate of Merit is the highest award given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Health and Safety Services course. The certificate is signed by the President of the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross. The award package also includes a citation, medallion and lapel pin. The Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action is a local award that can be given to individuals who are not Red Cross trained but use lifesaving skills to help save someone’s life.

For more about the story, watch the Fox 9 news clip. To learn lifesaving skills, take a Red Cross class.

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)