It won’t be long before warm weather brings greater opportunities for swimming. It is crucial that children have the chance to learn how to swim. The Center for Disease Control statistics indicate 20 percent of drowning victims are 14 years and under, with minority children having a higher drowning rate than that of white children.

Easily included

The Greater Toledo Aquatic Club, based at the pool at St. Francis de Sales High School on Bancroft, offers classes for swimmers of all (or no) abilities. A special program, called Waterworks, focuses on “handicapable” people, including swimmers with missing limbs, those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or hearing and/or sight impairments.

“Swimming is a lot of fun, and we want to provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy it. It’s also good exercise. The water makes the swimmer buoyant because it carries half of the swimmer’s    weight, so the swimmer is stronger in the water because there is less wear and tear on the muscles. That’s really important for swimmers who are missing limbs, or who have suffered strokes, for example. They can do more in the water than they could ever do on land. And sometimes, they are faster than ‘normal’ swimmers!” GTAC Director Keith Kennedy explains.

Creative instruction

GTAC swim teachers are trained coaches and competitive swimmers who receive special training. They are guided by a head coach during the one-on-one classes, and an independent lifeguard is always on duty. Each swim duo works together at the student’s pace, guided by the student’s needs and limitations. An autistic child, for example, might be bothered by a certain touch as the teacher holds him/her in the pool, so the teacher needs to take time to make all movements comfortable. The Waterworks training manual also cautions that the noise in the pool area may overwhelm an autistic youngster, and explains that a simple series of steps, repeated over and over again, will work best to teach some children.

The manual also includes diagrams of sign language gestures related to swimming, and information about epilepsy, MS and forms of mental impairment. Even sight-impaired swimmers are welcome, and teachers are encouraged to use creative and empathetic instruction to present concepts like balance, propulsion and pull.

Current swimmers taking classes include those affiliated with the Lucas County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and special education students in Toledo Public Schools. Classes are $65 per four hour session.

Kennedy hopes that all parents will make certain their children learn how to swim before summer. “Our goal every year is to have no drownings,” he says, “and lessons are the best way to make certain children are safe in the water.”

Those interested in more information about Waterworks and other swim classes at GTAC may contact kkjrs@yahoo.com, call the 24-hour hotline 419-531-2800 or visit www.gtac.swim.com.