Stew Leonard, Jr., who runs the that bear his name, is also a swim safety advocate, having started a water safety foundation after a drowning accident took the life of his 21-month old son in 1989.
Not unlike the “cows” that roam his food stores, Leonard created a life-jacketed Stewie-the-Duck character, who travels through Fairfield County to deliver water safety instruction. Stewie is also the featured character in a water safety book and CD set that has found its way into more than 100,000 homes.
Leonard recalled a story from a grandmother who was babysitting her 2-1/2-year-old and 6-year-old grandsons, when the younger of the two ran to her pleading, “Nana, come with me. I can’t go swimming without a grown-up,” and pulled her by the hand through open sliding glass doors to the family pool where the older brother was ready to swim.
“That family had read their copy of the Stewie-the-Duck Learns to Swim at bedtime many nights,” Leonard said. “I got chills when I heard that story.”
Leonard emphasized the importance of learning to swim. Through his foundation 126,000 kids have received swimming lessons.
“Little kids are like little bars of Ivory soap,” Leonard said. “They can be taught to roll onto their backs and float even before they learn to swim.”
Maureen Scinto, aquatics director at the agreed with Leonard, adding that children can start to learn to swim when they are young, but it is an ongoing process that should continue until proficiency. “Swimming is a life skill,” Scinto said. “Sometimes an older child will get embarrassed that they don’t know how to swim and get in the pool with their friends, maybe just intending to stay in the shallow water. It’s never to late to learn to swim.”
Scinto added one other piece of advice. “Nobody should swim alone, even an experienced swimmer. The buddy system applies to everyone.”
According to Aquatics Director Michael Mancini, diving is dangerous.
“You risk head, neck and spinal injuries,” he told Patch. “All pool decks are required to have depth markings and as well as signage to designate where diving is or is not allowed. Our rule is that swimmers enter the water from the pool deck feet first. We don’t allow any diving unless it’s in a class with an instructor or diving coach.”
“Lifeguards are trained to rescue, but prevention is key,” Mancini added. “The Y has equipment, including spinal boards to immobilize and transport a victim, and frequent training including spinal drills on both children and adults. We’ve never had an accident and I attribute that to prevention: enforcing rules, not just in the water but on the deck, the edge and the entire pool environment.”
Michael Long of the , which monitors water quality of public pools, offers parents a tip. “Tell your children pool water is not drinking water. Don’t swallow it. Also, shower with soap before swimming and wash you hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.”
lifeguard Renato Henrique, says his constant refrain is: “The pool is not a playground.”
“I tell the kids not to run around the deck like it’s the grass,” Henrique said. “The pool is for swimming. No pushing. No horsing around.”
Alison Zomb, a New Canaan mother who frequently brings her 5-year-old and 12-year-old to swim at the town pools at Waveny Park, said, “It’s easy to have a miscommunication with my husband about which of us is watching the kids. We each appreciate how you have to be vigilant, but, especially in a party or group situation, there can be misunderstandings over who is watching.”
Check out this site for Tips from the Centers for Disease Control including water related illnesses, swimmer’s ear, skin injuries and sunburn.
Here is some more information on Stew Leonard’s water safety foundation.