Respect Every Body of Water

Our friends lost their baby girl to accidental drowning over two months ago.

My husband called me with a crackling voice to deliver the news. My heart sank. And the words then came out of my mouth, “I can’t even imagine. I can’t even imagine.”


For over a decade, I have worked with Rowdy Gaines, Mel Stewart, Cullen Jones, Missy Franklin and every other swimmer on the US National Team to try to help prevent childhood death due to drowning.

When I got the news of Bode and Morgan’s daughter, I felt deep deep connection, almost a responsibility because this happened in my world of water. I wished that my magical water wings that could have swept in and saved their sweet girl. They are my friends, I wanted to be able to help them.  The strength that we have seen from these two loving and caring parents is amazing. And the way in which they are working through this unimaginable event in their lives to passionately speak out about their experience so that others can learn from their devastation, is remarkable.


And then, just a few weeks ago, I read about's, Nicole Hughes, and learned of her family’s own tragedy when her son drowned June 10th at the age of 3. Again, I can’t even imagine.


What I can do is help both of these families spread awareness about swim and water safety. Summer break is coming to an end. People are consumed with thoughts of back-to-school shopping and school supply lists but, it is still absurdly hot and kids are still drawn to the water.  It is ALWAYS the right time to discuss how kids and parents should view water, today and everyday.


Here are my personal rules regarding aquatics of any kind.

 -Create a healthy fear of the water as well as a comfort in it. It's all about respecting any body of water. Kids will always find water intriguing but you will need to teach them patience and that it is as scary as playing on a busy street.

-Never let your child walk out onto the pool deck without an adult ready to be EYES ON. Make it a family rule as severe as running out into the street to get a ball without looking. Again, there should be some healthy fear.  I can't tell you how many times I almost ran out of our health club locker room half-naked because my son wanted to rush out to the pool before me. And the same was true when we would visit my dad and mom who have backyard pools. No exceptions.

-When it comes to a bunch of kids playing in the pool, lake or ocean we have a NO TOUCHING policy. I learned this one from personal experience. Several years ago, I was standing in our club pool, talking with my friend as my daughter, Skye, played with her son. I thought they were laughing and having a great time but really, my friend's son was hanging on Skye and unintentionally pulling her under. She would come up for air and I couldn't tell she was in trouble until at least a minute of this activity. My friend's son had NO IDEA that his weight was too much for her. We were right next to the edge and I was right next to them. I was so freaked out and Skye was ridiculously scared. Can you imagine? I was right there. Talking to my friend but not understanding what was going on. From that day forward, until the kids were on swim team and could swim for an hour at practice, there was NO TOUCHING in the water.

-Never trust that you know the depth, especially in a lake, river or ocean. But, even when diving into a pool at a swim meet, I remind Spider, my 10 year old son, to make sure he knows how deep it is.  I have witnessed an age group swimmer dive into a normal competition pool and hit his head. He was paralyzed. 

-Even an innocent bucket or random tub can be deadly. Turn all buckets upside-down or take them inside. If a bucket is left outside and is upright during a storm, the next day just a few inches of rainwater can be deadly to a curious toddler.

-Once the water in your bathtub is turned on, don’t leave its side. Just a few moments away from a filling bathtub can be exciting enough for a toddler to be dangerous. You have to remember that tragedy can occur in just a few inches of water.

-CEO. Be your families’ CEO, Constant Eyes On, when anyone is in the pool. Most drowning’s are silent and happen RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE PARENT OR GUARDIAN.  In fact, in many swim safety classes, they teach a baby, yes, a baby how to survive in the water with all their clothes on and have to TEACH them to cry and scream for help! (some of these classes are controversial but I want parents to have the information)

-Swim lessons save lives! There are learn to swim programs all over the country through your local Red Cross, YMCA or through USA Swimming's Learn to Swim programs.  Every child should take swim lessons and should be consistent with them. My mom, who taught lessons for years, always told me that 2 weeks of 20 minute lessons every day is much more effective than one or two lessons a week for a few months. And don't assume that your 3 year old remembers how to swim when they haven't been in the water all winter. This is a life long skill that you are gifting your child. It should be year round until they can really swim!

-And, the ocean. I have been a swimmer my entire life and I have equal amounts of love, respect and healthy fear of the ocean. NEVER EVER turn your back on her. You have to teach these rules to your kids at a very young age and repeat them every chance you get.

-If your pool doesn’t have a fence around it, make sure your doors have the automatic chimes that let you know when a door, anywhere in your house, is opened.

Lastly, I did a story for Good Morning America in June of 2009.

And, although the video is too old to pull up, I did share that when my son was a 1 year old, I opened up the cover of our hot tub to cool it down before a party. We had portable steps leading into our hot tub that were set up. I went back inside the house for a few minutes and when I came back out, Spider was standing on the first step, inside the hot tub. My heart sank. What was I thinking? I was lucky. Spider was lucky. I learned three things that day. It only takes a few minutes. Never open up the cover and leave the hot tub unattended and get rid of the steps that lead up to the hot-tub, forever.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4!

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4!

Yes, enjoy the outside. Yes, enjoy your vacation or summer moments around the water….but, please don’t let your guard down. It is a difficult role to be a Mama-Bear but, with water, be overly cautious. And, although pools, lakes, rivers and oceans are beautiful and fun, they are not your friends. They can be fierce and you need to respect them.

I support you, Morgan and Bode, and am proud of the difference you are making in the world of swim and water safety in Emmy's name!