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Friday, September 7, 2012

Tragedies In Open Water Swimming

According to Open Water Source's unofficial survey of the global open water swimming market and its over 6,500 events and competitions, there have been 29 deaths in open water swimming competitions since 2009 ... and dozens of accidents in the sport. This data excludes the number of deaths that have occurred in triathlons or other multi-sport events.

21 of the open water swimming deaths occurred in what is generally considered to be warm water temperatures (over 27 degrees C). A majority of these deaths have occurred on land once the athlete is rescued; a few have occurred after the athlete stopped swimming at the finish and stood up on shore. The other deaths included athletes who have been killed due to a broken back caused by high surf, getting pinned under a boat, getting run over by a boat and other unconfirmed reasons.

It is highly likely that there have been other deaths among the open water swimming events around the world, but there is no organization that has the resources or mission to compile definitive information on safety in open water swimming competitions. Open Water Source compiled this information as an independent initiative (since 1999) as part of its coaching knowledge database. "There is always inherent risk in venturing out into the open water," said Steven Munatones of Open Water Source. "But as race organizers and responsible people learn more about the best practices in the sport and learn from each other, the sport will be enhanced and made safer for a broader range of individuals."

At the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, there are a variety of safety-related issues that will be discussed as well as additional exploration of how to enhance safety in the growing open water swimming world.

1. The strong belief that swimmers should be able to swim to their potential at their own risk. What this effectively means is that swimmers are, in some cases, encouraged to swim beyond their fundamental abilities. Discussion on the importance of a swimmer's condition and pace (as measured by a stroke-per-minute count) and how to effectively identify a distressed swimmer will be discussed by a panel of experienced open water swimming luminaries. "When a swimmer's stroke count start to fall significantly, let's say from 70 to 55 strokes per minute, there are certain physiological reasons for this and none of them are good," postulated Munatones. "When a swimmer's stroke count falls significantly, it is time for their coach to carefully monitor their condition through a variety of well-established means which will be discussed at the Conference. My mentor, Penny Dean who was the long-time coach of USA national team and English Channel and Catalina Channel record holder who will be on the panel, was a stickler for the spm count."

2. A preliminary report by a global swimming association has explored the possibility that swims in water as high as 32°C are not harmful.

3. The average age of open water swimmers is increasing as the number of successful older swimmers is increasing. What this means is that under-trained and overweight athletes are getting into the sport with the belief they are prepared...but they are not.

4. There is a growing proliferation of jellyfish in the world and a concurrent growing number of swimmers in open bodies of water and a decreasing number of sharks. While most people are most afraid and concerned with sharks, it is the jellyfish that are causing most problems with open water swimmers. As the number of encounters between swimmers and jellyfish grow, there will be some swimmers who have severe systemic reactions. Are coaches, lifeguards and crews prepared for these reactions? Some are, many are not.

For more information on what will be discussed at the Conference regarding safety, visit here and here.

These will be some of the open water swimming safety issues raised at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California on September 21-22 where over 4 dozen luminaries and race directors around the world will gather.

• How far should a swimmer, parent, coach, race director, pilot or crew member go in ensuring safety in the open water?
• How far do others go in ensuring safety in solo swims, relays, triathlons, open water swims and channel crossings?
• How far are swimmers willing to push themselves in solo swims, relays, triathlons, open water swims and channel crossings?
• At what point does a coach, pilot or crew member tell an athlete that (a) they should not start a swim, (b) they should delay a swim, or (c) they should call it a day?
• What protocols and procedures are put in place when extremes in water temperature and conditions present themselves?
• How does and should a race director postpone or cancel a race?
• What should race directors and governing bodies do when a tragedy occurs in a sanctioned race?
• What should race directors and governing bodies do when a tragedy occurs in a non-sanctioned race?
• What are the statistics of accidents and deaths in open water swimming events around the world?
• What requirements and recommendations are in place for channel swims in established bodies of water? What about bodies of water where there is no governing body?
• What kind of products really work with jellyfish stings, especially with box jellyfish and Portuguese man o war? How are these products applied before, during and after the swim?
• What medical equipment is used and recommended at an open water swim?
• What's a Shark Shield, Electronic Shark Defense System, MySwimIt, Swim Safety Device or prop guard?
• How are glow sticks applied? What colors are best to use?
• What are the advantages of a kayak vs. a paddleboard?
• Why should a coach have a whistle?
• How should crew members or an open water swimming coach be selected?
• How have some close calls been averted?
• What happens when hundreds or thousands of athletes are in the open water at the same time?
• Why is stroke per minute data important?
• Sharks: what are their behavior patterns? What basic information should swimmers, coaches, race directors, parents and administrators know about them?

Copyright © 2012 by
Open Water Source

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