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MY HEART overflowed with grief last week when I heard of the accidental drowning death of 14-year-old Corinthian "Corey" Hammond.
Not that I didn't care before about child safety, but now, being a mother has worked its way into every facet of my life, including this column. Being the mother of a young child made Corey's death strike closer to home than ever, and my heart goes out to his mother and the unimaginable grief I know she must be feeling.
That's why this column is not only dedicated to Corey's memory, but also to the importance of swimming and water safety.
First and foremost, swimming is such an important life skill that all children should be taught at an early age, preferably during infancy, or at the latest in preschool. I also believe swimming should be taught year-round, so that children are not only as comfortable as fish in the water, but are also groomed to develop a healthy respect for water beyond the swimsuit season. Lest we forget, besides oceans and pools, drownings also occur in other open waterways like canals, deadly swimming holes and creeks like the local Pennypack, Tacony and Wissahickon, where numerous children and adults have lost their lives.
Second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day about 10 people die from unintentional drowning (of which two are children 14 or younger). That makes drowning the second-leading cause of unintentional death in youths ages 1 to 19.
Even more alarming, 70 percent of African-American children do not know how to swim, and the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African-American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times the rate of white children, according to the CDC. This is a national outrage, and it is imperative that proactive steps to break this vicious cycle be implemented immediately.
Third, swimming should just be a mandated part of the Common Core curriculum. Swimming and water safety should be right up there with the ABCs and 123s. If a swimming curriculum became a serious part of public education, it could take care of two problems with one action: 1) Cultivate fun and a love of aquatic fitness, and 2) Save lives and grief.
The way I see it, the younger a child is introduced to swimming, the easier he or she will adapt to the water environment and master the skills. Swimming is an excellent workout that provides both aerobic and anaerobic exercise and improves coordination, as well as balance. What could be more fun?
But, in the meantime, until we make children's swimming and water safety a national priority, be sure to only swim with a lifeguard nearby and wear a life jacket when on boats, canoes or kayaks. And parents, you must remain ever-vigilant, keeping hawk eyes on your children around water (even when they can swim).
Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.