Heartbreaking News Can Serve To Help

In the third passing in open water swims over the last several weeks, John Sloan was pronounced dead yesterday in the Centegra Hospital-Woodstock where he had been rushed after unsuccessful efforts to revive him on the lake shore after a 1- and 2-mile open water swim in Crystal Lake, outside of Chicago, Illinois.

The 58-year-old had become disoriented and lost consciousness during the swim after a lifeguard approached him and asked if he needed assistance. After John continued swimming, the lifeguard again asked if he needed help before extending a rescue tube to him. “At that point the swimmer became passive and the lifeguard immediately entered the water and brought the swimmer to shore where trained lifeguards responded immediately,” the park district statement read. Charles Keeshan of the Daily Herald reported that 210 swimmers participated in the race with 50 lifeguards providing assistance.

Based on our analysis of open water swimming injuries and deaths in open water swimming since 1999 (14 total) and the increased global popularity of the sport as well as the explosive growth in triathlons, we are convinced that our sport must review its current safety reviews, protocols and coordination for and among race directors, governing bodies and organizations.

We believe the responsibility is best left in the hands of governing bodies that can objectively review and help standardize general principles, protocols, procedures and recommendations for safety for all sanctioned open water events. At this time, most race organizers can submit a sanction application without a review – either locally, regionally or nationally – of their safety manual or safety procedures for a race. While many races have written safety procedures and established emergency protocols and contingency plans, other races do not have such a written plan and deal with problems as they come up based on the advice of local safety personnel and volunteers.

We strongly believe there should be:

1. A consistent, national review of the safety procedures of all sanctioned races. These safety procedures should be required to be in written form and the review should be conducted by an experienced group of individuals.

2. A presentation of all safety procedures and situations that should be shared online with all race organizers – across borders and between governing bodies – of sanctioned races. Some kind of Best Practices document, especially one that focuses safety procedures, would serve the sport well.

3. An offer of assistance to young race organizations when it comes to the establishment and documentation of safety procedures.

4. A comprehensive review of the injuries and deaths that have occurred in the open water events – and a subsequent sharing of this information with all race organizers. The review should be compared with the 24 deaths that have occurred in the swim legs of triathlons, so both sports can learn from one another.

While safety is an issue that is best addressed locally due to the differences in the venue (e.g., ocean or lake), resources (experienced lifeguards or volunteers who can swim) and water conditions (rough or tidal), compiling and sharing information would make the sport safer and stronger in the long run. Even in The Daily News of Open Water Swimming‘s recent global survey of the safety procedures when lightning strikes, local protocols vastly differ across the board.

The elements of safety includes topics ranging from water quality and water temperatures to recommended number and positioning of safety personnel in the water to a communication tree.

While adequate safety personnel and established emergency procedures in the most recent passing of three individuals were in place and everything was done to rescue and revive the individuals, we are hopeful that the very unfortunate passing of the three individuals this summer season will serve as the catalyst for a review and enhancement of the safety protocols across the entire sport where millions of individuals are now adventuring past shorelines.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones