Barry Saunders

It’s a good thing this Durham cop learned to swim. You and your kids should, too.

Barry Saunders
Barry Saunders

You’ve said it, I’ve said it, but you’ll never hear April Speed say, “There’s never a cop around when you need one.”

Fortunately for Speed and her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, Durham Police Capt. Walter Tate was around – at poolside at the Durham YMCA – when the tot fell into the pool and went under. According to ABC11, Speed had taken her daughter to the Y’s pool for swimming lessons and wandered away for a second. Her daughter fell in.

“She was under the water,” Speed told ABC11. “Her hands were kind of up just waving. I was terrified.”

Capt. Tate, whose 5-year-old son was also in the swim class, was not. He leaped into the water, rescued the child and expelled water from her lungs.

“He was in his regular clothes, shoes, wallet in his pocket, phone in his pocket, everything,” Speed told the TV station.

When I spoke with Tate, who has been with the Durham cop shop for 23 years, I asked him if he’d ruined his phone, because I figured some local phone company would gladly donate a new one. “It’s funny,” he said, “but I tried to call my supervisor right after it happened, but it wasn’t working. Then, all I could do was text, so I texted him and told him, ‘I’m going to get another phone tomorrow.’

“Around midday the next day,” he recalled, laughing, “when I got ready to go get another phone, I thought ‘Man, let me check my phone out.’ Usually, when you get a phone wet like that, its all over, but it started working and I haven’t had any problem with it since.”


Dr. Cecil Gordon of Delaware is former chairman of the diversity committee for USA Swimming and was assigned as a starter in Rio for the U.S. Swim Team at the 2016 Olympics. He has been pushing for people, including me, to learn to swim for decades.

Gordon, from Rockingham and Hamlet, chastised me Wednesday for never learning, despite vowing last year – after interviewing him about perennial summertime drownings – that I was going to call his son who teaches swimming in Orange County and learn. I made the same vow as an 8- or 9-year-old after my foot got stuck in the sand with water over my head and no one was around to see my bubbles or me. I was saved only when a providential wave rushed in, dislodged my foot and me, and propelled me toward the shore.

Once safely ashore, though, I said, “Nah, forget learning how to swim. I’ll just never go in the water again.”

Gordon, though, who grew up playing in the same overcrowded, segregated pool that I did, said “it’s impossible to ensure that you’ll never be in a situation” where swimming proficiency will come in handy.

After I told him I’d learned to swim a little bit at Palisades Pool, he scoffed. “You couldn’t have drowned in Palisades if you wanted to,” he said. “It was so crowded that you could’ve just walked over top of people to get out.”

He was, sadly, right.

“We lose so many of our children around this time of year,” he said, “simply because they don’t learn to swim. And it’s so easy – three or four lessons will have you pool-safe. You won’t be Michael Phelps, but you can save your own life. That’s what you want to be able to do.”

That’s what April Speed was doing when she took her little girl to the Y. Captain Tate said he learned to swim in elementary school. “I should give a lot of credit to my father and to N.C. Central University,” he said. “NCCU had a summer camp for kids, and they taught everybody how to swim.”

Tate said he knew he would become a cop during his days at Northern High School, when the father of a football teammate would talk to the young men on the team. His name was Officer Robin James. “I took a liking to the profession from then on,” he said. He took such a liking to it, he said, that another friend – who is also now a Durham cop – and he would ride to school listening to a police scanner just to stay on top of what was going on.

April Speed and her daughter Nevaeh can thank heaven that he was on top of what was going on at the Durham YMCA last week.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9