Focus on Fitness: Safety is the number one priority | SteamboatToday.com

Focus on Fitness: Safety is the number one priority

Kathy Gayer/For Steamboat Today

Our valley is filled with people enjoying the water, either at the pool, at one of the many lakes or on the river. Water is fun and refreshing, and it's the best way to enjoy the Yampa Valley. Kids and adults alike love it.

At Old Town Hot Springs, safety is our number-one priority. We teach Red Cross swim lessons and base our privates on Red Cross standards. The Red Cross program not only teaches kids proper swim technique, but also emphasizes how to be safe in and around the water. When first starting to swim, we learn skills and safety in a controlled environment. There are lifeguards, stairs, ladders and shallow sections. The water is clear, and there are no unmarked hazards. Swimmers at the pool have every safety advantage and enjoy strong swimming skills. The most rewarding moment in teaching is seeing our students reach a level at which they know they are confident swimmers.

As part of our swim program at Old Town Hot Springs, we teach every student about the dangers of swimming in other bodies of water and how to be safe in rivers and lakes. We turn the slide pool into our own private river, and the water from the slide simulates the current in a river. Here, kids float, swim and fight the current to earn a respect for the power of water. Even the best swimmers are surprised by the strength of the current. During this activity, all swimmers wear personal flotation devices, also known as PFDs or lifejackets. We emphasize that, anytime they are on a boat, they should wear a PFD. We also show them how to be safe if they fall out of a boat, raft or tube.

With the heat of the summer upon us and the river moving more slowly, many families are enjoying tubing the river. I have seen many children floating on tubes down the Yampa, but not wearing a PFD. The river is not a controlled environment. There are no lifeguards, and there are many unmarked obstacles. The current is still quite strong and can take the legs out from under even the strongest of people. There are big, deep holes hiding in water that appears to be shallow, and there are hidden rocks and trees. If a child gets separated from his parents by even 10 feet, the current can make that distance much greater in seconds. The first reaction when a swimmer gets out of his or her comfort zone is to panic. Even strong swimmers can forget their skills and panic. A good swimmer at the pool can become an inexperienced swimmer in a less-controlled environment.

PFDs saves lives. Many people wear PFDs and never need them, but going on a boat without one is not a risk to take. Please respect the water and put PFDs on your child when tubing or boating, and keep summer fun, refreshing and safe.

Kathy Gayer is a swim instructor at Old Town Hot Springs