By Patrick Pfanner
A big smile spread across Candace Greenman’s face when she recalled her swim lessons at the Sandusky YMCA last month.
And her excitement only grew as she explained the proper way to doggie paddle.
Candace, 7, who has Down syndrome, said she enjoys swimming and interacting with others at YMCA’s Learn to Swim program.
“I like to jump into the water,” Candace said. “I can’t wait to go back.”
She was one of about 15 children who recently joined the Red Cross-sponsored YMCA program.
Each summer, the Red Cross organizes the program at different pools in Erie and Huron counties, said Ron Rude, executive director at the Red Cross Firelands chapter. This is the first summer at the Sandusky YMCA.
There are four sessions, each spanning two weeks. The cost is $35 per session throughout the summer. The youngest group is a class of preschoolers.
“We like to start the younger kids with blowing bubbles and jumping in the water,” Rude said. “Eventually, we’d like them to become lifeguard-caliber swimmers.”
That takes time, of course, and there are plenty of obstacles to overcome.
Some children enter the program with what seems to be an unbreakable fear of water. To help these children, the YMCA employs two instructors and an aide who slowly help the newcomers, said Denice Robinson, aquatics director at the Sandusky YMCA.
“With some of these kids, we have to teach them to float before they can swim,” Robinson said.
While it can be challenging to help the children face their fears, Robinson said it’s worth it, particularly given the city’s proximity to Lake Erie.
“We have a lot of kids in the area that don’t know how to swim,” Robinson said. “By teaching them how to swim, we’ll make their summers safer."
This, coupled with having a backyard swimming pool, were the reasons Candace’s parents decided to enroll their children in swim lessons.
“Candace and Michelle have always loved being around the water,” said Candace’s mother, Tammy Greenman. “When we’d go on boat rides, our kids would see the water and it would take their breath away.”
Candace usually swims in the backyard pool, although a great many local children swim in Lake Erie. Unfortunately, some of them can’t actually swim and are at risk of drowning, Robinson said.
"Hopefully we can prevent drownings in the area,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that we don’t have a high number of drownings since we’re so close to the lake.”
About 300 people have drowned in the Great Lakes since 2010, according to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, a nonprofit that works to inform the public about swimming safety About 20 of the swimming fatalities occurred this year, including six in Lake Erie since January. One of the victims was a 12-year-old.
There are many factors — currents, water temperature, weather and such — that can hamper a person’s ability to swim. But simply knowing how to swim is a big part of promoting safety.
Drowning is the second leading cause of childhood death, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.
“We’re very concerned about keeping children safe,” Rude said. “We’re right on the lake, so kids should learn how to swim.”
The swim lesson program recruits hundreds of children each summer, he said.
In the end, the Red Cross’ commitment to childhood safety won the Greenmans over in the end.
“The coaches there were really able to focus in with Candace’s situation,” said Michael Greenman, Candace’s dad. “We’ll definitely be back in July for the next session.”
On hearing her father’s announcement — there are more swim lessons to be had — Candace could barely contain her excitement.
WHAT: Learn to Swim, Red Cross swim lessons
WHERE: Sandusky YMCA, 2101 W. Perkins Ave.
WHEN: Registration for the next session runs through Thursday at the Sandusky YMCA
COST: $35 per session
MORE: If your family can’t afford the fee, the Red Cross can provide a $20 “scholarship” discount.