Swimming for safety

Lessons shouldn’t be saved for summer, says longtime Santa Barbara swim school owner Wendy Fereday

By Leah Etling

Summer is here, and it’s the best time of year for afternoons at the pool, beach, lake or water park. Even as the drought continues, water is truly everywhere around Santa Barbara County.

“There is water around us all of the time,” says Santa Barbaran Wendy Fereday, owner of the Wendy Fereday Swim School. Then she goes straight to the soapbox.

“Every child should learn to swim. We should not be having kids drowning – they should be swimming by four years of age. They don’t have to be competitive swimmers, but they should be strong swimmers, especially with the beach in our backyard.”

When it comes to swimming lessons, best practices are quite different now than when today’s parents were growing up.

Fereday is exceptionally passionate about this topic. We reached out to talk to her about the longevity of her Swim School and her personal story, but spent most of the interview talking about swimming safety and drowning prevention. It’s an important conversation.

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children between the ages of 1 and 4 years old,” according to literature distributed by Fereday’s program. “Preschoolers primarily drown in home swimming pools and hot tubs or spas.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. And for every drowning death, there are another five cases of emergency room visits for nonfatal submersion injuries.

“When infants start to crawl, that’s when they are in danger of a body of water – just two to three inches of water and three seconds is all it takes for a drowning. It can happen so quickly and with people all around,” Fereday said.

The solution isn’t just swimming, of course. Adults must be exceptionally vigilant when children are near water, whether that’s the ocean, a swimming pool, bathtub, or even a fountain at the shopping mall.

But when it comes to swimming lessons, best practices are quite different now than when today’s parents were growing up. Private lessons are more common and year-round swimming instruction, beginning in infancy, is advocated by teachers like Fereday and the National Swim School Association.

“It’s a commitment on the parent financially, as well as ensuring the child is exposed to it on a weekly basis like anything else. You don’t let them stop learning their math, so they shouldn’t stop learning the skills they need to be in the pool,” Fereday said.

She’s now on her second generation of students, teaching the kids of children she once taught. And her own sons are now grown up – Brendan is a sixth-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School and Steven teaches with his mother at the swim school.

Even with the knowledge that her sons were strong swimmers, Fereday still cringed when she saw a Facebook video of her oldest son jumping off a high cliff into the ocean in Italy.

“Only thing I could l say is that I was thankful he is a swimmer and he could hold his breath for a long time,” she said. “But the reality is you’re not going to be there with them when they are in their late teens or in college. If they are strong swimmers, they will be better prepared for life.”

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