By Richard Mundy
For Hometown News
They save lives: those who run into burning infernos; those who help the fallen and wounded, either on a foreign battlefield on at an American race or a school full of frightened children; those who hurry towards a collapsing building in choking dust, debris and danger.
Those who are appalled by the more than 3,400 avoidable deaths each year of children, not yet five years old, who drown, also save lives. Those who dedicate their lives fulfilling a passion to lessen the number of heart-broken families, who each year suffer the loss of a young one.
Kathy Appell is one such lifesaver. She owns Aqua Journeys Swim School at 400 Parque Drive in Ormond Beach. She doesn't teach performing a one-and-a-half gainer, the butterfly stroke or synchronized swimming. She teaches infants and older children how to survive in water.
May is National Drowning Prevention Month, and it is appropriate to draw attention to this number one cause of childhood deaths. In 2007, there were 3,443 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging 10 per day, according to the Center for Disease Control.
More shocking is that of all pre-schoolers who drown, 70 percent were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning. And 75 percent were missing from sight for five minutes or less, according to the Orange County California Fire Authority.
Twenty percent of all drownings occur in private homes, according to the International Life-Saving Foundation. Drowning surpasses all other causes of death to children aged 14 and under. Yet, 58 percent of parents do not consider drowning a threat to their children.
Ms. Appell and her instructors first teach the children how to hold their breath if their head is underwater and to roll from a facedown position to a face-up back float so they can breathe. Then they are taught to float, relax and breathe until rescued by an adult. More advanced students are then taught how to roll back with their face in the water, hold their breath and swim to the side of pool or land, rolling back over on their back when they need to breathe.
How long does it take to teach those basics and at what age should they start? Each child is different, but according to Ms. Appell the child has to be able to crawl, a basic move of swimming. That normally occurs at 6 months old, the youngest Aqua Journeys will accept new students.
Each child is different, but a basic guide is that within an average of 15 to 20 ten- minute lessons they will be able to accomplish the basic move. Also, as each child is different, there are those who are initially opposed to being face down in the water, or even in getting wet. But under the skillful hands and methods of Ms. Appell and her Infant Aquatic Certified Instructors the "objection" level diminishes and the child learns a life-long skill and activity. Parents are also encouraged to be involved, both after school as well as during the initial sessions, as their children may experience less anxiety about strangers and separation.
Statistics show 80 percent of child drownings occur with the child fully clothed. As her pupils progress and reach a certain phase in their training, Ms. Appell and crew begin teaching them with them dressed according to the season, so their lessons will be more applicable to the real world situation rather than some ideal setting.
Ms. Appell is an active, personality-plus lady who obviously enjoys what she does. "That's why I do it, for saving babies," she said, "because I don't want one more to drown. This is my 21st year."
She's not sure how many children she has taught to swim, but guesses it's around 5,000. Placed against the number of infants and children that drowned during that time period, Ms. Appell statistically has reduced the total death count by some 8 percent.
Ms. Appeal's staff includes her 21-year-old son, Colby Caldwell, who teaches older children, "ages 3, 4 and 5."
"I teach swim/float/swim and then free-style, back stroke and breast stroke ... all the way up to swim team if that's what they choose," Mr. Caldwell said. "We don't have a swim team, but we do swim clinics for those interested in being on a swim team."
He said the clinics make them swim-team prepared.
The Aqua Journeys School's position is swimming provides other benefits as it not only aids in the development of the brain, enabling coordination between thought and translation to body movement, but it also enhances the body through exercise and exertion.
The other instructor (and partner in the school) is Kira Blum. "I started last summer, last July," Ms. Blum said. "I was a math teacher at Seabreeze (High School). It was a mixed class, sophomores through seniors. The experience transferred as each swim child is different. And as all classes are one-on-one, each child must have a curriculum designed just for them."
Ms. Appell is certified through Infant Aquatics, a network of child-focused swim instructors covering 14 states and providing a standardized academic and physical curriculum. Both CPR and First Aid certifications must be maintained yearly. She also is certified to teach other instructors.
Her most gratifying moments are the calls from parents, surprised at what their children can do in the water.
One mother told her about her baby falling into the water, but turning over and floating, waiting to be picked up out of the water.
"Another Mom calling me and telling me that their two year-old son came in the kitchen, fully clothed, and he was all wet," Ms. Appell said. "He ... had fallen in the pool and gotten himself out. That's probably the most gratifying moment."
She added, "I had a baby that fell off a dock, she was 18 months old and it was in the winter, into the Halifax River."
She turned herself over and floated on her back and her dad reached into the river and picked her up by her belt and pulled her out.
"They put her in the Jacuzzi to get her warm. She saved her life," Ms. Appell said.
The school is holding a grand opening of their state-of-the-art facilities on May 25. For more information, call (386) 676-9555 or visit www.AquaJourneySwimSchool.com.