The American Red Cross is celebrating 100 years of swimming safety education, not by patting itself on the back, but by redoubling its efforts to make us more prepared for aquatic mishaps.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that accidental drowning claims an average of 10 lives in the U.S. each day and is the sixth leading cause of accidental death; but getting people enthused about water education is swimming against the current.
According to a survey conducted for the Red Cross, 80 percent of Americans claim they can swim. But when presented with a list of the five basic life-saving skills required for water competency, only 56 percent of those folks still qualify.
Yep. A lot of Greg Louganis wannabes think a “butterfly stroke” is something that environmentalists try to prevent when they picket a subdivision construction site. Countless people who think they can handle a large body of water str-uggle with someone who sprays his S’s when he talks.
This self-delusion is typical. We underestimate how many calories we consume, how much time we watch TV and how often we doze off while driving. We overestimate how often we exercise, how often we floss and how much time we devote to spirituality. (“I’m in church practically every time the door is open. Uh…they do still have doors in churches, don’t they?”)
A lot of myths need to be dispelled. Groundbreaking research from Tyson Foods reveals that “the last one in” is NOT necessarily a rotten egg. Josef Stalin does not chuckle in hell every time someone falls for his master plan of using chlorinated water. No “Baywatch” babe has ever said, “My turn-ons are moonlit nights and guys who get concussions from running alongside the pool.” The Pulitzer Prize committee has ruled that no story ends well when it begins with, “Bet you sissies have never seen this before…”
We do make our excuses for not taking a Red Cross swimming course. “Since when is a six-pack not an approved floatation device?” “I’m afraid the tubes will get tangled in my flippers while I’m donating blood.”
“I never go near the water,” asserts one fellow. “Unless the grandkids drag me. Or I go on a cruise. Or cross that rickety bridge near my house or…”
“Accidents happen to other people, not to me,” swears Lucky, who cuts quite a figure at the lake, with his eye patch, grease-fire scars, iron hook and peg leg. “Cannonball! No wait -- cannonballs scare me, since I dropped that one on my knee.”
My son Gideon (age 10) completed the first two levels of the Red Cross Learn-To-Swim program in May. He has the lithe build of an Olympic swimmer, but he needs to develop some muscle and endurance before proceeding. Right now he is at a disadvantage because he spends much time as a couch potato and because he finds many vegetables about as appealing as your Uncle Bubba in a Speedo.
The Red Cross Learn-To-Swim program has six levels, but we sort of concocted a seventh to keep Gideon motivated. He has his eye on “King of the Seven Seas” level. We’re depending on the Red Cross to teach people the health and recreation benefits of swimming, reinforce safety precautions - and hurriedly develop one of those gigantic seahorses like Aquaman rides.
‑ Danny Tyree’s “Tyree’s Tyrades” columns are distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. (firstname.lastname@example.org).