Don't know how to swim? New program could save lives

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Unintentional drownings are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and now a local swim team wants to make sure summer fun doesn't turn tragic.

All this week, Grand Strand Masters Swimming is teaming up with the City of North Myrtle Beach to host its second annual "Swimming Saves Lives" program. The program aims at teaching people over the age of five basic swimming and water survival skills.

The catch here -- the classes are free.

"We just wanted to provide an opportunity for adults and children who might not otherwise have an opportunity to take swimming lessons to offer it at no cost," Diane Bartlett, coach of Grand Strand Masters Swimming, said.

Bartlett says otherwise, those lessons can cost families anywhere from $25 to $65 dollars this summer.

"At the end of the week [last year], they could swim or were swimming on their back the length of the pool," Bartlett added. "They were so thrilled. They were so excited."

In 2011's program, Bartlett says an estimated 120 people took advantage of the lifesaving course. She says drowning incidents that have already claimed the lives of four people in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee this year emphasizes the need for water and swimming education.

Of those 120 participants, 30 were adults -- and it was the group that surprised Bartlett the most. She says some participants even feared taking showers or baths.

"Last year the adult program surprised me more than anything. We had about 30 adults come in and some of who had stood on the steps and clenched the railing," she said.

Unintentional drownings are blamed for nearly 10 deaths everyday in the United States, and 1-in-5 claim the lives of children ages 14 and under.

Right now, swim lessons are in high demand across the Grand Strand and Pee Dee because summer safety is on the minds of many parents.

The Florence Family YMCA plans to host its "Splash" program this month, where children ages 5 to 12 can receive swimming lessons for $5. Officials say this summer, they expect to teach 500-600 children how to swim.

The City of Myrtle Beach says it sends about 400 children through its swim lesson program every three weeks.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.