Hi Tina, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
In 1996 I was a working mom to two with a 3rd “surprise” baby on the way. I worked as a Regional Manager and Trainer for a National Retailer. On a cool December morning, I dropped my six-year-old son, Andrew, off at school and took my 17-month-old daughter, Allie to our Nanny’s house not far from the school. Ours were the only children she watched. It was just like any other day. I had a schedule full of work. Like many working moms, I relied on the help of others for my children so that I could help provide for them. Not long after I got to work that day, I got a phone call that rocked my world. The nanny started the call with, “Before I say anything else, she’s ok.” She went on to say, ” Allie fell into our pool. She’s out now and resting. She’s ok.” I don’t remember how I traveled from downtown to her home in the suburbs. All of that is a blur. All I know is I dropped everything and moved as fast as I could. I cried all the way to her home. I was so scared. When I arrived, I heard the details. The Nanny’s college-aged daughter had let the dog out through the sliding glass door. The door led to a screened pool and another screen door that had a doggie door out to the yard. She left the slider door open so that the dog could let himself back in, not realizing that Allie was there.
As a toddler, Allie was curious and very mobile. She saw the open door as an opportunity and went for a little explore. The pool was green, with deferred maintenance since the weather turned cool. No one was swimming, so the need to balance it had lost its importance. We aren’t sure exactly how she got in the pool. Was she chasing a toy or did she wander to it and trip? It all happened so fast that she wasn’t noticed as missing. Jan (the nanny) heard the dog barking like there might be an intruder. She found the dog in the pool swimming circles around Allie. She jumped in and pulled Allie out. She was breathing. She didn’t have to be resuscitated. The dog saved her life! I don’t blame Jan or her daughter. It was an accident. But, I would never let the accident repeat itself. I did a little research and discovered a program that taught children how to float to save themselves should they fall into the water unattended. Curious, I went to observe these “swimming” lessons for myself. I was blown away. Children as young as two years old swimming laps while periodically floating on their back for air. I immediately enrolled my children and watched in amazement as they learned to do the same thing. I was so impressed that I made a career change and learned to teach the method myself. I never wanted another family to go through a near-drowning or worse, a drowning. Babies can be independent and save themselves. Living in a place like Florida, where most homes have a pool and there is an overabundance of water, makes this program so very important. Since that time, I have taught thousands of children to be safer in and around the water. I have also developed an Instructor training program. It has become my life’s passion. I hear from parents all the time who have had a close call and are thankful for the training their children received from me. From accidental falls in pools to toddlers who have made their way to open water without a parent. This training is essential, and it lasts a lifetime. It is a solid foundation for the love of swimming. Many of my students have gone on to junior swim teams, then high school, and collegiate level swimming and water polo. My daughter Allie is an accomplished swimmer, surfer, paddleboarder, and diver. Her life could have been cut short that day. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember that. I feel blessed by the opportunity to teach children to swim and be safer in and around the water. I treat each and every student and family as if they are a part of mine. As a result, I have the most awesome extended family!!
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I like to look at each obstacle and challenge as an opportunity. I grow as an instructor and as a human by accepting each challenge with optimism and patience. Every child is different. Every child is motivated differently. I have learned not to change the child; instead, I change my approach to accommodate each of them. Each lesson is tailored to each child.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I have been in the water for twenty years, teaching babies and children how to navigate any body of water independently and safely. I take great pride in my ability to help children perfect their skillset while making their training interesting and fun. In the beginning, there are often tears, but I can almost always turn those tears into smiles and giggles in the process. I am known for the outstanding results I achieve with each and every family. What brings me the most joy is hearing when my students did exactly as they were taught and save themselves from a potential drowning. I hear about these instances regularly. This account is one of many: The first year that I taught was a family with four children that needed lessons. I knew the mom from my children’s preschool group. I knew she couldn’t afford lessons for all of her children and modified my pricing to accommodate her. She wasn’t going to have the youngest taught because of financial reasons. I convinced her to allow me to teach the child, anyway. That summer, after the children were skilled, they took a road trip to North Carolina. They were fishing at the river banks when the youngest child (18 months) slipped down the riverbank into the water. The water was moving pretty fast, and the parents could not catch her to rescue her. She immediately flipped to her back and stayed in the float position as her sweet little body was pushed downstream. Dad was able to run along the river to get ahead of the child and enter the river about 1/2 mile away. When he caught her and picked her up, she was smiling and giggling. They called me right away to tell this story, and it has been one of incredible confirmation for me all these years. I know that I am making a difference in the lives of children. That is where I find my strength, patience, and happiness.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Survival style swimming instruction has gained a lot of popularity since I first started teaching. It used to be viewed negatively by traditional swim programs. Initially, I believe that was due to a lack of education on what we teach and how we teach it. We have gained popularity over the last ten years, and I find I am educating parents less and less on the benefits of survival swimming versus traditional lessons; because they already know. The popularity of internet search engines, social media as well as several organizations and individuals who have helped to spread the word on how safe and effective we are, has helped. Bode Miller, Olympic ski racer, and Granger Smith, country singer, both lost a child to drowning in recent years. Because of their high profile, they have brought attention to the very serious epidemic of drowning. Bode Miller’s wife has been a very big advocate for survival swimming, moving forward to have their other children taught this method. They have both been interviewed at great length on the benefits of having done so. This last year has been very challenging because of Covid-19. In response, I was able to modify my program to offer online video conferencing (Zoom format) to coach parents on how to teach their children. While this has not been the most ideal of lesson formats, I have found it to be 100% effective. So, moving forward, I will continue to offer it to parents who are not able to make it to “in person” lessons. I find every year, my schedule fills up sooner and sooner. We desperately need to train more instructors to help to teach the numbers of families requesting to be skilled. That is my bigger challenge!!
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