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Friday, July 11, 2014
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Published: Friday, 11/9/2001

Swimming demands safety and vigilance

Swimming and springboard diving always were my favorite sports. I swam regularly for more than 50 years starting in college, and I held several short-term jobs as a lifeguard.

Inevitably as a lifeguard, I pulled a good many people to safety, mostly nonswimmers who had waded into water over their heads.

Swimming under supervision is an extremely safe sport, but I will never forget one incident, although

This occurred in my leisure years, shortly after my marriage in 1928.

I lived in Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland. My husband worked nights at a newspaper. which left me alone a great deal..

To pass the time, I frequently swam at the Cleveland YWCA and also at a hotel that had an excellent diving board. One evening I was diving from the springboard as usual and after doing a jackknife, I plunged to the bottom of the pool, where I felt a hand brush against my thigh.

Emerging. from the pool, I peered down to see who had been near me in the water. There was nothing near the surface but one could see a dark form on the pool bottom.

Diving in again, I was dismayed to come upon a motionless body, floating over the pool drain.

Grabbing a firm hold, I raised the body and swam with it to the side of the pool, shouting as soon as I surfaced.

The lifeguard was in the shallow part of the pool, chatting with a group of girls. He responded instantly to my call, reached down, and pulled the limp figure out of the water.

The fire department emergency service was called and artificial resuscitation was carried on without any response.

I knew he was dead.

The next morning a full story of the drowning appeared in the news. To my surprise, my name was not mentioned. Instead, only the lifeguard was quoted. According to his account, he had seen the swimmer sink in the pool and had grasped the swimmer's arm as he went under. His death was attributed to an apparent heart attack.

This, of course, was not true. The lifeguard had not been paying attention to his duties and had never seen the swimmer go under the water. The only truth was that he had pulled the victim out of the water.

I did not blow the lifeguard's cover. Nothing could be gained by blaming him. It taught me a lesson, however. When I guarded a pool thereafter, I made a point of scanning the bottom if ever it were left unwatched even for a few minutes.

An unguarded pool never can be a completely safe place, no matter how skilled the swimmer.

Millie Benson is a Blade Columnist.



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