'Swimming Pool Safety' by Caroline Laszcz

Going to the swimming pool is a summertime staple for children, teens and young adults all across the nation. Cooling off at the pool, especially in warmer and more humid areas, is an undeniably fun and refreshing way for young adults and teens to socialize while escaping the heat and humidity. What often goes unstated, however, is the importance of reinforcing swimming pool safety in young adults and teens who have been around swimming pools for years, but who don’t have a lifeguard or parent watching to make sure they swim safely. Anybody can harm himself or herself in a swimming pool, so pool safety shouldn’t be limited to children who are required to swim with the presence of an adult. Recently, I learned the hard way how important it is to be safe around pools, despite the fact that I am twenty-three years of age and have been swimming for as long as I can remember.

Over Labor Day weekend, some friends and I went to the neighborhood pool. After sitting out in the heat for a while, I decided to dive in the pool, something I don’t frequently do but that sounded fun in the moment. I approached the pool near the deep end and dove in, but I instantly felt an extremely painful impact on my face, nose and shoulder. I felt like a concrete wall hit me. Cupping my face with my hands and propelling myself toward the surface, I realized that I had dived where it was too shallow to dive, striking the bottom of the pool at a pretty sharp angle. I had unintentionally dived into the area in between the deep and shallow ends, where the water’s depth isn’t strictly stated because the bottom of the pool is sloping downwards towards the deep end. At the time of my dive, the water in front of me looked plenty deep enough for diving. There was a plaque on the ground nearby that read, 'NO DIVING,' but I must not have noticed it at the time. My face and head were throbbing from the impact, but thankfully my neck and back felt fine after the dive, and the only other part of my body that ached was my shoulder, which had a shallow scrape on it. The facial injuries I had sustained from hitting the bottom of the pool were pretty minimal. I was left only with large but shallow scrapes above my eyebrow, on my upper cheekbone, my nose, and on my upper lip, as well as some pretty bad swelling below my eye. This is all great news considering how bad my injuries could have been; had I dived at an even steeper angle, I could have injured my spinal cord and even paralyzed myself for life.

Little did I know how dangerous a bad dive in the wrong part of the pool could be for an adult of my height until it happened to me. In fact, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, diving is the fourth leading cause of spinal cord injury for men and the fifth for women (Shepherd Center). Needless to say, I consider myself very lucky to have not sustained any lasting spinal cord or head injuries, which may have been the case had things only been slightly different. Additionally, many adults who take a bad dive into a pool don’t get as lucky as I did, and end up suffering from tetraplegia for the rest of their lives. Some unlucky divers don’t even live past their incident. This information was equally as horrifying as it was easy for me to find. However, the possibility of this type of injury occurring wasn’t even on my radar until I made my bad dive. In fact, I haven’t even really thought about diving safety in years. Which poses a problem that I believe needs to be addressed. No adult, teen or child should suffer the consequences of a faulty dive just because he or she misjudges where in the pool is safe to dive. Children are warned by parents and lifeguards (who are often sitting nearby) to be safe when playing at the pool, but no such safeguard is in place for teens and adults who still enjoy going to the pool. This may seem like common sense, but the fact that diving is such a high cause of spinal cord injuries among adults indicates that adult safety at swimming pools, especially when diving is involved, is still an issue that needs to be addressed. When an injury as preventable as diving injuries are still occurs frequently among adults, action needs to be taken to educate adults on the issue and to decrease the number of diving-related injuries and deaths overall. One idea that swimming pools can implement is color-coded pool bottoms. For example, if a new pool is being constructed, red tiles can be used intermittently on the bottom of the pool in the shallow end to indicate that diving is not permitted, and green or blue tiles can be used in the deep end to indicate that it is safe to dive. If this is too expensive of an option, pool bottoms can also be painted with a thick green, red or blue line or pattern to indicate where diving is safe. Additionally, more attention-grabbing warning plaques can easily and cheaply be installed in the concrete around pools to more heavily warn people of the dangers associated with diving. For example, if the plaques were much larger and made to be more colorful or attention grabbing, I believe more adults and children would pay attention to the signs, and hopefully re-consider whether or not it is deep enough for them to dive in that area. Since many adults who have diving-related incidents are likely college students, universities can promote diving safety at their health centers or all throughout campus before the students are let out for spring and summer breaks. Primary care doctors and physicians also have the power and the platform to warn their young adult clients about diving-related injuries during routine check-up appointments, which oftentimes occur over the summer for college students. Suburban swimming pools, swimming pools at apartment complexes, and public swimming pools should all post easily visible flyers educating swimmers on where they can and cannot safely dive into the pool and how to properly dive. Lifeguards should be instructed to notify adult visitors if a particular pool is known to be deceptively shallow so that divers don’t have to figure out the hard way, like I did. Endless solutions exist to the problem that is adult diving-related injuries, proving that this type of injury is extremely preventable, and because it is so preventable, it should not be happening to anybody.

At most neighborhood pools, when a lifeguard declares that it is 'adult swim,' people who are eighteen or older are allowed to enter the pool and swim at their pleasure without the lifeguard’s presence. In many cases, adults enjoy this brief time period as their only chance to peacefully cool off without being splashed by kids or getting in the way of a pool game. But what does this mean in terms of adults’ safety while swimming? Surely most levelheaded adults won’t enter the pool unless they are confident in their swimming abilities, making a lifeguard seemingly unnecessary when solely adults are in the pool. But what about the many people like me, who are strong swimmers who simply forgot that the rules of physics have changed now that I am older and much taller and heavier than I was the last time I dove into a pool? Even though going to swimming pools is still a huge part of my life, I haven’t considered the importance of poolside safety since I was a kid and there was always a lifeguard or parent closely watching and reinforcing swimming pool rules. Now that I’m an adult, however, I realize that I am just as much at risk of injuring myself at the pool now, as I was when I was a child. The difference between now and then, however, is that I am aware of this safety issue and I can help prevent other people from injuring themselves like I did.