LUMBERTON — Kris Wojiek has a simple message for beginning swimmers: Don’t panic.
Wojiek, the assistant aquatics director at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s swimming pool, says panic can be a killer if it happens in the water. She says swimmers need to remember to swim through it.
“When you panic you usually turn back, but you always want to keep your eyes in the direction that you’re going — it will usually take longer to turn around. The safest thing to do is to just keep on your path,” Wojiek said.
The UNCP Swim School offers classes all summer long — mornings and evenings — for $50 per individual for two weeks of instruction. Preschool classes are available for children ages 3 to 6 and Learn to Swim classes are available for children ages 6 to 15. Adult Swim School is available from May to August and the cost is also $50, for eight lessons.
After introducing fundamental water skills, instructors teach different strokes, like the breast stroke, free style, front crawl and side stroke, and then focus on refining those skills.
P.J. Smith, aquatics director at the pool, says that drownings are caused by people who overestimate their swimming ability and underestimate the risk.
In the United States, drowning is the second-leading cause of death among children 1 to 14 years old. On a global scale, one child drowns every minute; minorities having the highest risk. According to a study by the University of Memphis in 2010, nearly 70 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanics have low to no swimming ability; American Indians were not included in the study.
In Robeson County, about 68 percent of the population is minority.
“We teach kids things that can make a big difference, like learning to look before you leap and to always swim with a buddy,” Wojiek said.
As children ages 3 to 9 hold on to the edge, they take turns adjusting to the water. The instructors bounce them up and down to wet their faces. The more advanced group practices kicking and paddling across the pool and the younger ones begin their lesson by learning and repeating catchy phrases that will encourage good behavior.
Denise Campbell looks on from the side as her youngest child, 3-year-old Aubrey, begins his swim lessons.
“My daughters have taken swim school for the last eight years,” Campbell said. “We bought a swimming pool five years ago, so I just get terrified. I’m confident that he will learn the basics to be able to get into the pool. You still have to watch him because he’s so young.”
Campbell agrees that the risk of drowning is greatly underestimated.
“There are bodies of water everywhere, especially in Robeson County …,” Campbell said.
Ninety percent of drownings occur in fresh water and only 10 percent in the oceans. The Lumber River, which appears to be slow moving, is considered dangerous because of what is unseen — the current.
“If you’re in the river, you just want to stay in the current and let the water take you where it wants to take you until you’re in a place where you can stand up,” she said. “It’s the same if you’re in the ocean. The waves are moving inward, so eventually they will bring you in — it might be miles down the beach, but they will eventually push you back in.”
As the children enthusiastically received instruction, Wojiek stressed the importance of continued swim lessons.
“We ask the parents to keep their children coming back until they’ve reached level four, which is the stroke improvement area because then they’re in the position where they actually know their strokes,” Wojiek said. “If they go into the river, we can be confident that they have the skills.”