Raleigh participates in World’s Largest Swim Lesson

krupp@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2013 

— Swimmers at Optimist Pool participated in The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson on Tuesday, possibly contributing to a world record and learning the swimming basics that can help reduce their risk of drowning.

The World’s Largest Swim Lesson coordinates a half-hour swimming lesson for the Guinness World Records to raise awareness about the dangers of drowning and the importance of basic swimming skills. This is the fourth year Optimist Pool signed up to participate in the event, registering 25 swimmers. Last year, 75 swimmers participated in Raleigh, said Terri Stroupe, the city’s aquatic program and facilities director.

The event was created by the World Waterpark Association in 2010 and set the current Guinness World Record for the largest multivenue swimming lesson in 2012, with 24,873 participants at 235 venues in 5 countries. Event organizers planned to break that record Tuesday, estimating that more than 35,000 swimmers participated.

Kerri Mercer heard about the event at Millbrook Pool, where her two children, Evan, 9, and Allison, 7, take swimming lessons.

“We thought this would be fun. Evan doesn’t like the water, but he likes the Guinness Book of World Records, so I thought that would help encourage him to do this,” said Mercer. “He was under the water and blew bubbles; he would never do that before. This is a major win for him.”

Accidental drowning killed 123 people in North Carolina in 2011, including 22 children and 101 adults, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics.

From 2008 to 2011, 114 children under 18 died from accidental drowning, according to the N.C. Child Fatality Prevention Team. Most of those deaths occurred between April and August, with more than 10 deaths each month, including 19 in July.

“Drowning is a major summer accident, and we want to do anything we can to prevent that,” said Emmanuel Wilder, the leading swim instructor for the event.

Basic skills for the event

To be included in the record count, swim instructors must teach certain skills determined by The World’s Largest Swim Lesson. The skills are taught in the same order for the same duration at every participating venue.

The skills include safe entry into a pool, learning to comfortably hold breath underwater, front floating and back floating, and basic strokes and kicking. The staff also instructed swimmers in general rules for water safety.

At Optimist, the 10 swim instructors helped swimmers float and rotate their arms correctly and told swimmers that aside from being safe the number one rule of swimming is to have fun.

That is the motivation behind The World’s Largest Swim Lesson, said Stroupe. “We have to make it fun so they will come back and really learn,” she said.

Raleigh aquatics programs enroll approximately 3,000 children in swim lessons every summer and approximately 5,000 children every year.

“I have been a swim instructor going on 10 years. I started when I was 16,” said Wilder, an instructor at Optimist pool and other Raleigh facilities who also coaches local swim teams. “Swimming kept me out of trouble when I was younger, so I love being able to pass that along.”

Stroupe called swimming a life skill that every adult and child needs, especially if it can prevent accidental drowning.

“You never know when you are going to find yourself in the water,” she said.

Rupp: 919-829-8955

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