It’s time for another episode of Child Safety Source. During each video podcast, we’ll be talking with a water safety expert. These brave professionals are doing their part to help keep children safe. Today, Life Saver Pool Fence’s President, Eric Lupton, is hosting a one-on-one interview with Mick Nelson, the Facilities Development Director for USA Swimming.
Regular readers of our blog will recognize USA Swimming by the excellent drowning statistics that they share each month. Click here to read USA Swimming’s November drowning stats.
Watch the full interview with Mick Nelson here:
Learning More About Mick Nelson
As you heard during the interview, Mick has a strong club coaching background. He also has extensive experience in business and aquatic management. Mick and his wife, Sue, formed their own swim club and built their own indoor facility in Danville Illinois in 1972. They have deep roots when it comes to pool safety. In 1974, the couple formed Nelson’s Swim Supply, a pool, spa and aquatic equipment company.
Later, they formed NSS Inc., which offered aquatic facility design, building, and business consultation to the aquatic industry. In 1994, Mick and Sue formed WaterWay Therapy. This was one of the first privately owned Medicare-approved outpatient Aquatic Physical Therapy centers in the country.
Of course, Mick and Sue were just getting started. In 2002, they formed Poolside Health & Wellness Center which became not only the home for the USA Swim Club, WaterWay Therapy, and Swim America swimming lessons program, but also a full service community health and wellness center. Since 2004, Mick has been helping USA Swimming clubs and members with pool project planning both for new and existing pools.
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with Mick Nelson from September 14th, 2018:
Episode 33 – Mick Nelson
Eric Lupton: And zero, and that’s it we are live on the Internet. How’s it going to make
Mick Nelson: Doing well, how are you Eric?
Eric: Excellent, we had a little bit of a technical difficulties, but I think we’ve got it figured out; at least good enough for the time being. You know, and you can see it afterwards to see what it looks like which will be exciting, you know. So, I worked with your wife, Sue, for a couple years at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and, you know, I really enjoyed working with her there, and I met you a few times at the conferences and you came along** so tell me a little bit about your work in what you do.
Mick: I’m the senior director of the facilities development department at USA Swimming. Basically, we help people build new pools we help people renovate pools, we help people solve pool problems and then Sue steps in and along with me, we help people program pools so they’re financially sustainable, and hopefully customer friendly to the community. So, it’s a partnership, we both cover each other, we can both do each other’s job, but my main thing is the building and the physical facility, while her main thing is the programming, and then we both, of course, have a tremendous interest in the drowning prevention and all the new initiatives and proven initiatives out there in the USA.
Eric: Now, when you say you help people build new pools, you’re not talking about residential pools are you?
Mick: No, that’s where I kind of have a residential pool background. But, with USA Swimming, we try to stay in a commercial end of it. So, when I say people, I mean cities, park, district’s Swim Club parent boards swim coaches themselves universities high schools pretty much any of the larger pools. All of our pool designs have three pools involved; we have a lap pool, competitive pool, recreation pool. In other words, the big bowl; we have then a teaching pool, programming pool which would be used for learning to swim, adult exercise and then we also usually have a smaller warmer pool that’s we can use for therapy private swim lessons and that kind of thing.
Eric: So, let’s give people some context because, you know, if I was just hearing this for the first time, it sounds like USA Swimming is a pool builder but that’s not really the case, right?
Mick: No, we have a syndicate of 70 plus manufacturers that we call professional providers, architects, aquatic engineers, manufacturers, we work in conjunction with them. When, we go into a project that needs design and then basically, after the fact, we’re problem solver. If you have bad air quality indoors, we do some residential troubleshooting. People that have known us in our previous businesses, you know, you end up with green water for some reason, it’s not unusual that I would get an email saying, hey Mick, all of a sudden my water turned green, it rained, what’s going on. So, we do both, but mainly commercial and no we’re not a full builder. We’re a support system since USA Swimming is the largest swimming organization in the country. We have over four hundred and sixty thousand members twenty-eight hundred clubs, about three hundred and sixty thousand swimmers; we have a lot of resources that we can help people with, you know. We’re definitely in the assistant help mode up to a certain point, we don’t charge for our services, this is one of the commitments USA Swimming mean made when they started the facilities development department was getting back, and if we have the expertise we’re doing services anyways, let’s so let’s share them as much as possible
Eric: Yeah, so explain that what does let’s say swimming actually do? What are those services that the organization as a whole provide?
Mick: We’re a whole governing body from the United States Olympic Committee or the governing body for swimming in the United States. So, our first and foremost job is to run swim meets and to sanction meets and then to also have coaches certified and have our teams registered. I mentioned we have 2,800 swim clubs, those are throughout of course, all 50 states. We’re divided into 59 regional entities, we call them local swim committees. Most the time you would think of them as a state until you get out east where you have a very dense population and we couldn’t just do the state of New York. So, we have just split it up into a little bit more reasonable amounts. California has four different local swim committees; Texas as three. But, in general, we work through the states for sanctioning meets and then we take …we make sure our athletes are number one, safe, number two, prepared for international travel all the way up through the Olympics. Next week we’re starting… or this week I guess… we’re starting the pan packs in Japan. We just finished our national championships in California, and of course, this is all heading towards Tokyo Olympics in 2020. So, from little kids swimming local meets all the way up to the Olympics, USA Swimming is basically charged with handling all that running all that making sure everything goes right?
Eric: So, what does it mean for a meet to be sanctioned?
Mick: Meets, that means number one, it has our officials… we have adults that go through the process to become an official, a stroke judge, turn judge, starter referee, that you have those in place and that the pool measures properly 25 yards or 20 five meters or 50 meters. There’s a whole list of things that says your are safe to run a meet, your pool is approved and you’re getting the right people there to make sure that the events and everything I run properly.
Eric: Then so, if a meet is sanctioned and you swim in a sanctioned meet, does that go on like an official record? What is the benefit of that?
Mick: Yep, you can use those qualified times for the next Meet up, you know. Most sports have a qualification procedure, you just can’t walk into Augusta and play the Masters, right, you have a qualification. It’s the same way with certain levels of our meets, once you get over the local level, the state level, you get up into sectionals or the what we call the T.Y.R series, you get into our national meets those all have qualifications and you can only make those times at a sanction meet.
Eric: Okay, so these are the early runs we’ll call it, you have to overcome before you can get to the national competitions or the state competitions, the national competitions and then I imagine eventually, the Olympic team, right?
Mick: Right, we have an Olympic Trials that happens in usually late June or early July of 2020, and that’s where we’ll pick our Olympic team to go to Tokyo. So, that’s the big one, that’s what everybody goes for. What USA Swimming works in what we call quads, every four years? It’s all based around the Olympics, so we’re in Tokyo quad now that will end in 2020 at the end of the Tokyo Olympics, and we’ll start preparing for 2024 which will be France, and then we’ll start preparing after that for 2028 which will be back here in the United States and LA.
Eric: I didn’t know that, that’s really cool. So, you have to qualify… I mean I would imagine you have to qualify it to do the Olympic Trials, right?
Mick: Oh yeah, it’s very fast meet. We tried… there’s about 1,500 swimmers that qualify to go to that meet, i’’s held in Omaha… at least this time it will be as for the last three have been in Omaha, Nebraska. Yeah, very, very fast, only the elite and we still end up getting 60 and 70 swimmers in every event trying to qualify for the top two to be on our Olympic team.
Eric: Wow, you know I’ve never really been involved in competitive sports at that level or any level honestly but you know, the work that US Swimming does has always been really impressive to me as far as, you know, cultivating talent from a really young age and, you know, supporting swimming you know, all the way up to the Olympic level.
Mick: You know, we really try and keep at the age group in the development stage, we encourage all of our young swimmers to do other things, you know, to play the other sports, get a well-rounded very healthy active lifestyle and then by the time they’re usually in junior high or high school, they’re looking at maybe you know getting down only 1 or 2 sports and you know, trying to specialize
Eric: So, you know, I know you from my work in a drowning prevention and through the NDPA. What does USA Swimming do when it comes to water safety and drowning prevention?
Mick: We started an initiative in 2005. It basically got really rolling in 2006 and 7. It’s called make a splash and basically, we believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn how to swim. We’d like to see it happen before second and third grade but sooner is just fine. We throw a lot of dollars at this that we have gone out and lobbied our sponsors to donate money so that we can do Make a Splash grants and basically, we try to say if you can’t afford to swim that shouldn’t stop you. We have over a thousand what we call local partner and they basically have signed up they’ve sent us their swim curriculums in other words, how they teach swimming, their little stations and stuff or badges or whatever system they use, they send that to us or they’re part of a national one like the Y or the Red Cross or the Park District starfish swim America, the national ones are automatically approved a curriculum that you’ve developed that you think is…well, the way you want to teach swimming… all you have to do is send it to us and then we approve you to be a local partner, and that way, you can now apply for grants we’ve given out well over five million dollars in grants. The last eight years, we’ve taught over 4 million …not personally taught nor I don’t want to… don’t have to sound like… we build pools, we don’t teach swimming but our local partners, we’ve given them grants so they can give either free or reduced cost lessons to kids out there that are looking…that knows how to swim
Eric: That’s amazing. So, why did USA Swimming decide this is important?
Mick: We pretty much paid… have been paying attention; it’s kind of hard to teach somebody to swim fast before you teach them how to swim, so learning to swim becomes the entry level into our sport. But, even more than that, learning to swim is still a life skill which is why, you know, you do what…and we do what we do. This is something that basically makes kids safe; we thought that that was important for us to start becoming more active in that. Thus, to ‘Make a Splash thus, we started USA Swimming Foundation which is a separate not-for-profit that basically is in charge of Make a Pplash and fundraising and the local partner program. So, we have a lessons finder on the USA Foundation web page that you can type in your zip code and our local partners will pop right up. And, you can contact them and they’ll basically tell you what they offer, whether it’s free reduce lessons or what their Make a Splash system is that they offer at the local level.
Eric: And, you know, you mention the second or third grade do those grants and, you know, the kinds of curriculums that you guys will accept. Does that include the really young? Like the swim rescue type stuff or does it start a deal everybody?
Mick: Okay, yeah basically that’s up to the local partner. We have local partners that basically… there’s one of our largest ones right now is Chicago Park District, is one of our newer ones well over three thousand swimmers. They may use the grant money for transportation, they may say, hey, we know that you can afford, you know, a six dollar, a nine dollar swim lesson but, we can’t get the kids to the pool. And so, they’ll use their grant dollars on their application, and will say transportation is our number one thing where someone else may say, look we can give it to them at half price, we have to pay pool rental. So, rather than a ten dollar lesson, it’s a five dollar lessons. And then, we have some that are doing really, really good and they learn to swim business, and they say, hey we’re gonna dedicate this amount of free lessons. So, the local partner has the flexibility to be able to use the grant money the best way to get kids in the door. But, yeah you know, within a reasonable age of being able to take instruction and understand yes and no, all the way up through you know, nine and ten-year-olds. Some of them, you know, the train left the station on them and they still don’t know how to swim. So, basically there’s no age limit, that’s up to the local partner.
Eric: That’s really cool. And, I like the local flexibility that makes a lot of sense. I’m glad that the, you know, even though the US Swimming is obviously, you know, it is part of the US government, right?
Mick: No separate
Eric: Separate. Is it non-profitable?
Mick: Yeah, we’re a 501 C 3 not-for-profit, a lot of people think our overseeing organization which is United States Olympic Committee the USOC, that’s a privately funded – it’s not part of the government. The only thing the government did was in nineteen… in the late 70s, I’m thinking I’m going to say 78, they created what was called the ‘Sports Act’ and that’s when every sport was charged with coming up and developing a governing body for that sport that would be responsible to the Olympic movement. And so, all 46 sports have an independent governance and our person would be USA Swimming but we still report to the USOC. So, no government, all private.
Eric: Gotcha. Okay, any… yeah and I knew that about the USOC, but you’re right that is a popular misconception because it seems so official, I guess that’s the right word.
Mick: You know, it’s just kind of cool in a way, it’s got its advantages both ways. We’re not beholding to certain fundraising and the government can always step in and go, you’re not you’re not following the sports Act, you’re not doing what’s best for the athletes in athlete protection and in being fair. But, they usually don’t, usually each sport governs themselves relatively well
Eric: Awesome, so that’s where these US soccer or where US Swimming etc, that’s where all these organizations kind of spawned from, is that US Sports Act?
Mick: Yep, yep, they were they were told you will do this. It used to be all over the place, AAU played a part in, a little bitty this here, another organization played a part in there, and the government said no more, because the Olympics is very important both, you know, as far as, you know, the spectators, but also as far as all the athletes too, and they said you know let’s get this organized, let’s get this under one umbrella. And so, thus the USOC and then every other sport work. We are what’s known as the medal sport, we get more medals than any other sport.
Eric: Is that true?
Mick: Yeah, 33 medals last time
Eric: Wow, is that because you have so many events or are we just really good at swimming?
Mick: Oh, we’re really good at swimming. We also have a very good… we have a club system so we don’t do that. We don’t hire the coaches, we don’t do the coaches, we basically leave our local clubs in charge of that and that gives us the freedom for independent coaches to be very creative. And, that club system has worked great, so it’s kind of like to make a Splash to let that local let them do locally what works best.
Eric: So, how many Olympic events have you gone to?
Mick: How many have I been to?
Mick: I’ve been to Olympic Trials. I have never been to the Olympics. I’m working… I’m done with Tokyo now with my part and I sit on the FINA, which is the overlord of the world swimming. I’m one of the five people that sit on a Facilities Committee. I’m the USA representative, and we’re already looking at France. So, I’m so far down the road, you know, people going, well, we’re going to Tokyo…well, you know, that’s ancient history to me, right.
Eric: Yeah, you built that pool, you know, years ago really.
Mick: Yeah, we didn’t build it but we’ve definitely been involved with the design, with, you know, advice here and advice there.
Eric: That’s really cool, would you want to go?
Mick: Well, it’s a hard question. Uh, probably, yeah probably yeah. It depends upon where it was, you know, would love to go to France. Yeah, absolutely nothing against Tokyo, but I would love to go to France so we’ll see. You know, I was at LA afterwards and on the last one, and at Atlanta afterwards. So, we put on a really good show here in the United States.
Eric: It must be cool seeing the pool you help design, you know, on TV getting used though.
Mick: Yeah, and you know what, they all look the same on TV.
Eric: But, you can tell right?
Mick: I can yeah.
Eric: Yeah, so I know you’re a fan of an idea of having a safety sheet included about pool fences and gates on all the doors to lead out to the pool, is that right?
Mick: I just think that we need to remind ourselves all the time, having raised three children with Sue you can’t watch them all the time no matter how good you are. We raised three kids across, literally 60 feet away from an aquatic complex, a commercial three pool facility 35,000 square feet and our houses were right across the way from it. And, I will be honest with you, even though our kids learn how to swim about the same time that they started, you know, crawling, they’re still never safe. And, every once a while when you’re ain’t even in that kind of controlled atmosphere with professionals around, you turn around and you know, Missy’s not there, you know, where she at, you know. I’m in the pool, where she at. I’m worried about the rest of the building, usually. But, uh, it’s almost impossible to watch a child with that much vigilance. And so, it’s not a reminder for the child, it’s a reminder for the parent, you know, lock the patio door if you have a dog door, lock it, if you have a door going to the garage which connects to the patio, lock it, and then put a warning sticker on it. It doesn’t have to be obnoxiously large, but it’s a reminder that this is, I mean, we put warning labels on everything else, why aren’t we doing this on important things around the house. Every time somebody buys a pool, they should get a little stack of six different warning labels that are just the window clings that, you know, they go on and they peel right back off
Eric: So, how big would you imagine it will be?
Mick: I’m gonna say just about the size of a note card
Eric: Okay. Yeah, just it’s just general safety stuff, you know, make sure the door is locked, make sure the pool fences in good working order
Mick: Watch your child. I mean, that’s the main thing. It’s not the doors fault, right. This is… it’s… be honest with you, is the adults fault when something not done, you know, watch your child, you know, be pool safe. There’s all kinds of things that people could do to be creative with this, you know, it should be on the outside of the fences, it should be on the pool ladders, just be on pool covers, it should be on anything that is a barrier that helps us keep children safe as a reminder to swim. Parents, you know, one thing we talk about when we do different clinics and presentations are grandparents. Grandparents about 10 percent of our children’s drownings are at grandparent’s house; houses grandparents raised the children. They did a marvelous job, obviously, the children grew up, they had kids of their own and the parent and the grandparents have a pool, right. And then, they dropped the kids, the grandkids off to the parents thinking, well I was raised there. Well guess what? The grandparents got a, you know, the guy out of practice of watching kids, and 10% of our drownings are at grandparent’s houses. So, those kinds of stickers, you know, remind them you should. They should be free; if I buy a pool from ABC Company, I should be able basically, you know, to say, you know, I’d like to have another set of stickers for grandparent’s house. Because, I mean, that’d destroy a family as you know in a group. Yeah, it changes everybody’s life, so we don’t need that.
Eric: So yeah, I’ve talked to way, way too many families who have gone through that.
Mick: Yeah. with families United and all the other things, as good a job as they’re doing, you know, they’ll never, ever, ever, go back to the point of before the tragedy happened, you know, that’s a shame.
Eric: I know recently there was a video that got passed the internet about that above-ground pool with the ladder
Mick: Mmm-hmm right, and we had started talking about that a long time before that. The ladders first of all, I don’t think any pool… I don’t care whether it is one of the big box marked stores that sell the little cheapy 4-foot pools that look like they’re about ready to fall down at any minute, those pools should not be allowed to sell a ladder that doesn’t have a safety guard for the steps. Those safety guards need to pass inspection because some of them are not really that good as you saw with that video that went around with, you know, the little boy that had chimpanzee toes you know and he can still climb up the darn thing. But, this is secondary, you know, for you know, primary locking the doors from the house then pool fencing around the pool. And then, another challenge for the child that’s adventurous is the ladder has to have a way that the child cannot …can’t climb the exterior part of the steps. I think we definitely need to look at some of the science behind this. Some of the engineering, I think it needs to be approved but I think the main thing is, we can’t sell the other ladder the same work,
Eric: Yes. I was thinking something like the stairway gate, the safety get you see it houses and you got the childproof gates, you know. When your kid was two years old and you had the gate for the stairs and it had the latch, it’s kind of a pain, you know, something like that for ladders, I think, would go a long way.
Mick: And, they make covers that just literally cover the steps. I think there’s a lot of different things that could be done to be looked at and saying this is the best. That’s up for the ladder manufacturers, but we need to stop making the junk ladders, and that you know, we’ve had just literally hundreds and hundreds of people… not people… children drowned. We started tracking this; about 450 children drown already in the last eight years, and this is something that shouldn’t be allowed. We can’t build a house now without smoke detectors, it’s a law. You simply can’t do it; so, we can’t put a ladder in a pool without it being a safety ladder. So, it’s just… we need to change… and my job is to hopefully motivate change. I’m sorry I don’t have the time to lobby for the change, you know, I can only recommend and we’ve, you know, looked at about four different points with the fences and the ladders and the locks that we feel like we can do a better job at.
Eric: So, I mean, that’s two of them, what are the other two that you think are…?
Mick: I basically think that, well, we got the life jackets, basically doesn’t need to be a recommendation. It needs to be a law; you have to have a CG…a Coast guard-approved life jacket if you’re on the water in a vessel. I don’t care whether you’re on a paddle boat, kayak, which are basically you know death vehicles; I cannot tell you how many kayak and canoe deaths there are. People… I’ve been a swimmer all my life, I wouldn’t go without a life jacket on, but I don’t know, it just there has to be a law. Almost every Lake and recreational part of a river has somebody from the Forest Service or the parks department who’s in charge of monitoring that area, you know. Start handing out fines, it’s got to be voted on but come on. Literally thousands… I can’t track how many people have died because they didn’t have life jackets on. And what we track is, when our news releases that we track from the 20 different sources, when they mention, a life jacket was not worn. Okay, sometimes not really good reporting and they don’t mention it, I can’t assume. But, I know that there’s literally thousands and thousands and thousands of life’s that could have been saved if someone would have had a lifejacket and I can only think… in the last eight years. I can only think of six instances where a person drowned with a life jacket on, and it usually had to do with whitewater rafting and it usually had to do with getting caught in branches and brush and I don’t think it would have made a difference; life jacket didn’t cause it, they drown despite of the lifejacket.
Eric: Right, and I think a couple cases of hypothermia maybe as well but, yeah.
Mick: Yeah, it doesn’t make a difference
Eric: Right, absolutely. So, I thought that life jackets were a law. I know on boats for sure,
Mick: No kids …kids sometimes under 18, other states…it’s a state, not a federally…
Eric: I think in Florida at least, you know, if you’re if… you’re a kid on a boat you have to have it on, but you have to have it on the boat, otherwise …which I always thought that was silly… if you have the lifejacket on the boat, that’s not doing much if you have an accident or, you know, if someone hits you or you know, no one expects to fall in the water, so the idea of I’m gonna put the life jacket on real quick before I… you know, go overboard… is kind of ridiculous.
Mick: Yeah, like I …Minnesota has 12 years and under, and it’s highly recommended for the adult, you know. This becomes political; somebody’s got a boat, I want to go out and just sit and talk, I don’t want a life jacket on. I think life jacket design needs to be looked at too; they need to be lighter… we have all this, the new polymer materials, you know, are we going to call a ski belt a life jacket, would it help? Of course it would help, you know, let’s get… let’s get them more comfortable where they don’t rub under your arms and you don’t feel like the Michelin tire man when you put them on, you know. Let’s start looking at that design too so everybody’s comfortable with them. Let’s move it forward; they looked the same in most part, they’ve looked the same the last 20 years. Make them more convenient. There’s no such thing as having them in the boat; it’s on the person you know, and that’s the rule when you go to put a boat in there. Have been hundreds of deaths from people taking their life jackets off owning a personal watercraft and they fall in either putting the boat in or getting the boat out and they didn’t have a lifejacket on yet. Really? If you can’t swim, I don’t I don’t understand that concept, but obviously it’s there.
Eric: So, the drownings that you track, is that tracked by USA Swimming, is that by you personally? How does that work?
Mick: It’s by me personally. Well, I really… I would love to say it’s done by a whole bunch of different people, but there’s an element of confidence. I want to make sure nothing’s missed, this is a very tedious task this time of year, it takes about three hours a day this time of year and it takes about an hour a day the rest of the year. Because, this is our …July we just we just got out of our worst month, you know. July is the, you know, that’s the apex of drowning. August a little bit better, and then September and then when we get to the October and the colder months, there’s only five and six a day, right. Now, we’re doing 40, you know, 30 and 40 a day. And, when we tracked around is when we need to know more than just, hey you drowned or they drowned. We tracked like 15 different things; I’m not trying to capture every drowning. I know we’re not, because if it’s not reported, we’re just not going to get it. But, what we’re trying to do is establish trends, and right now, we’re in our tenth year of this and I think we got a pretty good handle on some trends and where to focus some of our drowning prevention efforts. So, you know, we track the state, we track the person’s age divided into four categories; four years and under five years through twelve teenager and adult male or female. We do track two ethnic groups which is African-American and Hispanic, because that’s where some of our Make a Splash initiatives are focused on; not entirely but it’s a part of it. So, we need to know the percentages and is that going up or down; we need to know the body of water, is it a lake, river, pond, ocean, pool; commercial, pool home, pool motel, pool apartment floor; and then there’s some other things like the grandparents what we call emotional response which means, my dog fell in the water and I thought I would go save him and I can’t… forgot I can’t swim, or a child and I just… I tried and we both drowned; rip currents, hot… all kinds of things we track. And then, we try to convert that into percentages when we look at some of the total numbers. So, we have to read every articles what that amounts to and we usually have to visit an article about three times during a two-month period. Because, you …it’s very unusual if somebody reports the name of the drowning victim on the first part of the report because their relatives haven’t been notified. And so, we have to go back and go back and go back but we think it’s important because these trends have to be able to be intelligently talked about.
Eric: So, they’re using like a Google News Alert type deal and…
Mick: We’ve got twenty different things we use. We, yes, we use Google, we use talk walker, we use mention, we use both pay-for and none pay for, Associated Press. We actually subscribe to over a hundred local web newspapers. And so, these are all set up so that we get… if you think Google Alerts, they all come in that way… not through Google, but they all come in to our computer and we start sorting them so when I get up in the morning at four o’clock, I’ve got probably 15 drownings that I need to review that didn’t necessarily happen overnight, but they got reported and I got my alerts within a 24 hour period. And then, we monitoring five times a day; I go to that part of that program and going, what’s new and let’s get it recorded. And, it’s added in the spreadsheet and that spreadsheet basically is up to date about every three hours and then Sue sends it out to the people that have signed up for our email posts which are two different spreadsheets that comes out at the first of every month. And, that’s the history of the drowning and gives you a lot of that other information we talked about that I said they’re part of the trends and different things we track.
Eric: What makes you decide to start doing that? I mean that is a phenomenal workload. I mean the effort you’re putting it is amazing, by the way, and it’s so important, you know. What made you decide this is something you wanted to do?
Mick: People were asking us questions that I could no longer answer as if I was in the private sector. We spent 35 years only in our own swim schools, health clubs, anything to do with the aquatics including supplier of, you know, both pools chemicals and equipment. And, I could give them an answer that was adequate and what would you know, give them what I thought was the information they needed. When you represent USA Swimming that’s not good enough, when you represent a national governing body you have to be as accurate as possible. And, I found myself going like, well I don’t know, you know. Well how many you know, well we’ve heard this… we kept seeing other stats reported to from other organizations that I kind of like a little bit suspicious of, and I said you know, how accurate are those? And so, basically, we said, well I guess there’s only one way that we can know, and that’s basically start tracking it. So, the hardest thing to do was the first three months, to figure out what you’re gonna track and how you’re gonna display the data. That would only changed about 20 times, but we wanted to make sure information we gave was accurate. And, we had people like, I was on this summer… we’ve been on the three or four different local of state or local major city news sources because they said, we heard this, is this true? We heard you tracked it. And, I said we’re not going to talk true or false, we’re gonna say here’s the numbers we have collected. So, you know, you can make a more intelligent decision of how you’re going to report it. So, we use it for our Make a Splash, but why we started it, it’s just because we’ve always been a resource for information about any kind of aquatic programming, and we just wanted to be as accurate as possible and help in anyway. And then, of course, we meet …you see these other organizations that start up national drowning prevention alliance, you see great guys like you out there, you know, with the pool fencing companies, you see the gate companies, you meet people from family united and I guess I asked myself, why wouldn’t I do it, you know. When I go to those kind of places I say, wow, you know, these the kind of people are going to use this information and move these initiatives or efforts forward. So yeah, I don’t care how what… (Sue speaking in the background) oh, and of course I’m talking with Sue. Basically, you know, every four years the CDC’s come out. But, we need up-to-date information, I can’t wait four years.
Eric: Right, yeah I mean, that was my next question; isn’t this government… I mean, isn’t this information being tracked by some kind of, you know, government body or local officials. But, I mean every four years, that’s… your right, that’s forever, you know.
Mick: Yeah, you know, I compare it to computer technology; do I really want to be doing on my computer what I was doing in 2014 and using that as the basis for fact? So, no, I mean, I’m not trying to compete with them, I wish there were a hundred people doing what I was doing and I know there are other people starting off and they go, do you mind? And I go, why would I mind? You know, we’re not in competition, we don’t charge for this. Well, it usually gets down the line is that the other people that are trying to start it are starting it, you know, for maybe more than one reason and they find out they can’t do it for free. Were USA Swimming has made that commitment. So, uh…
Eric: So, do they help sponsor your effort then?
Mick: Well, they pay my salary
Eric: Oh, but that works.
Mick: Yeah, that’s nice. It’s part of what I do, is part of my job description that I’ve wrote since I’m senior director. I’m very fortunate to be able to write different projects in that we feel are important, and yes USA Swimming thinks that children’s swimming it’s important and they’ve allowed us and Sue and I to say yes, this is one of those important things that we feel like we can do. So, I got ** here in the back can I talk about it just for a second?
Eric: Yeah, please go ahead
Mick: Because, this is what’s special to me. I am… I’ve always wondered, even back when we were in private business, because we started our swim schools in 1972; to me that’s like yesterday, to other people somehow ancient history. But, when a child goes to kindergarten or goes into the first grade, one of the first things the parent has to take with them is proof that they have been vaccinated, okay. Vaccine is a cure for these identified diseases; learning to swim is a cure for drowning in many cases. Why aren’t we requiring that by the time …and I don’t want to get into the actual grade; since we’ve said second or third grade, why aren’t we requiring that for a child to go to the fourth grade, that they have taken a swimming competency test and have a online certificate that says, I can’t go to fourth grade until I’ve done this. And, I don’t want to hear you can’t afford it, because there are organizations out there that have step forward and making sure that we’re not losing these people through the cracks, all right. We’re just not doing it. And, if we can do this with vaccines when we didn’t have computers, why can’t we do it with learning to swim now that we have computers and databases. And, it’s gonna have to be a state law, it’s going to have to be federally mandated, somehow, someway. Again, my job is to motivate not to create, but I think we’re really missing the boat on this, and I know some states are much better at this than others. Some states like Florida are very, very far ahead of the curve. But, they can still get better also. But, why don’t we mandating this? It’s a life skill, 70% of the earth is water, we’re going to be around water our entire lives and the only way I can stop the 63% of adults that drown, because they’re the most… adults drown more than children as far as percentage goes, it’s a 20-year fix. I can’t stop adults from drowning until I teach children to swim, and then 20 years later, we start making advances towards improving the adult situation. And, I guess I can only ask why, why haven’t… why aren’t we doing this? It’s a magnanimous task, so is polio, so was the Salk vaccine. It was a huge task, and we’re much more prepared for doing that right now. We need it; we need some leaders, some force some lobbyists, we go back and talk about the Virginia, Graeme Baker Act which had to do with entrapment in a hot tub, which was not a very, very… it’s not common at all, but it got through because it was a senator’s granddaughter, you know. I don’t want to wait you know, a governor or a president’s child dies. We need to get some lobbying and political backing to saying this is important. And, if you don’t think 22,000 people trackable drowning over the last nine years is important, come on. It’s the second most prevalent cause of death in children is drowning. So, I think this is the most important thing of anything, is you know, let us do the barriers, let’s just do the lifejackets, let us do you know, the fences and ladders, but let’s teach kids how to swim. And, I just think that’s something we really… we’re not doing as great a job as what we could be, and I’m as guilty as everybody, because I’m not too sure where that first step comes.
Eric: You know, I’ve never, you know, I’ve heard a lot of people say the swimming lessons should be required but I’ve never heard anybody put it into a system like you have right there. I think that’s as a really interesting way of compelling people to make sure their kids get swim lessons.
Mick: Yeah, you know, and I don’t care where they’re coming from the YMCA, where they’re coming from private swim, because we have swim schools popping up all over the country or franchises, now we have Park districts that teach all summer long, we have school systems, we’ve got the JC CAs, we’ve got all these people teaching give us a certificate, the person in that school takes the certificate enters it into the national database, okay, and they can go to the fourth grade. Well, I can’t… I can’t go to the fourth grade, well this shouldn’t be a surprise because we’ve been talking about it since kindergarten and if you can’t afford it, tell us let’s get you on a list. Don’t tell me in July that you can’t go in August to fourth grade, all right. Let’s get this problem solved, if you can’t afford it, let’s gets you on the list and let’s get you taught, it can be done.
Eric: Yeah, I mean it makes sense, you know, and you’re right. If we did it for this generation, you know, let’s say you know 2020 it begins, um I think you’d be right that in the next, you know, 15 20 years you see the numbers go down.
Mick: Absolutely, absolutely.
Eric: And, you would know better than most what the number this year, you know, collecting. So, you know, the thought I had, have you ever thought about taking the spreadsheet and putting it, because you said it’s up to date every three hours, ever thought about putting it online in like a Google Doc or something that people could access in real time.
Mick: In real time? No, because I have to go back. It takes me sometimes… it takes me three weeks to get people’s names right, I’ve had times that somebody with names that they said they drown, and then three weeks later, I see that they were recovering in the hospital, you know, and I don’t want that to ever happen. And so, that’s sort of like saying, we’ll send it to you once a month, but it’s more than just that certain minute when I get a notification. Like we said earlier, it basically has more of research to do than just that. So, about the only thing I feel really comfortable with is once a month doing that.
Eric: The once a month version is, you know, up to date, you know, is finalized essentially?
Mick: Yeah, you know, by that time I’m doing… we do a lot of work before we send out that monthly; there’s edits actually, that’s pretty much all we do the day before is edit it, make sure there are no glaring mistakes. Probably the only mistake that we, you know, can, could and do make may be a duplication and we try to catch those. I don’t think anybody’s perfect when you handle this amount of information, but yeah, this morning when I got up, we basically conclude that spreadsheet now. It’s uh 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13… I had 13 overnight, of which ages are fifty seven unknown 21-5-5-4-6-7-46-20-64-3 and 64, okay. And so, and that today. I’ve… since I’ve been talking to you, I have 12 more alerts that I’ll do here an hour after we hang up. I’ll bring that up to date too, and so this is I say, not my favorite time of year by any means but it is the most important time a year.
Eric: How does that weigh on you, personally, emotionally?
Mick: You get ticked off, you know, after…Well, I think there’s two ways just. you know, I always got to be careful what I say in public. But basically, sometimes you look at it as a Darwinist approach for some of these adults, you know, really you’re in a paddle boat, you can’t swim, you got two six-packs of beer, you’re out, you sold the paddle boat, you fell out of the boat and you drowned, you know. It’s hard to have any sympathy, especially when I don’t know with a person. And then, I turn around and I look at you know, we have three of them in Colorado Springs, our city, that happened yesterday at an apartment pool we’re not even sure how old the kids. We know they’re all under six years old, we know ones in critical condition and two are in very serious condition. I will tell you, I have never seen a critical condition survive, okay. Very serious? I don’t know, 10%, and yeah it weighs on you, it does. You know, we just had, you know, the Olympic skier- and I’m not mentioning names, but just lost his 19 month old daughter, that’s been devastating. They’re moving forward to try to do more drowning prevention; well we need to get drowning prevention before it happens, okay, we have a whole group of family united that finally did that and honest to god, they didn’t know about it before, they never really thought about it, you know. And so, yeah …I have yeah, it does… I have to put it away. I feel bad when I’m sitting at the computer it hasn’t got any better over the last ten years, maybe a little, but it still has an impact and then you got to get on with daily life, and saying God you know, what can I do to help the people out there that this hasn’t happened to or affected yet. So yeah, it does… it you know, I guess morticians do the same thing; obituary writers do the same thing, you know, they handle tragedy and death and then they get on with their life, and then they go back to it and you get used to going back and forth but it still means a lot to you, it’s still affects you.
Eric: Sure, I mean, especially knowing that you know, a lot of these, you know, especially, I mean you read off just now really young ages, and there’s a pretty good chance that those could have been prevented, you know
Mick: Oh yeah, they were an apartment pool where kids pushed each other in, there was no adult supervision because it has a sign up there; this pool has no lifeguards, right. You know, why doesn’t say ‘this pool has no lifeguards but adult supervision is required’? Ok, water watchers and I don’t mean an adult that can’t swim, because that goes back; and then I’m tracking emotional response type things. So now, I have three kids and an adult, but you know, common sense has to start prevailing we have to start getting this out. We do a really, really good job at preaching to the choir, you know, we have conferences that are definitely talking to the people that has been affected too, they’re sharing information, it’s emotional support, it’s needed but I don’t think we’re getting the word out like they did with the seatbelt laws; like they did with lung cancer and smoking; like they’ve done with so many other things, I don’t think we’ve reached that stage yet of getting it in front of enough people.
Eric: You know, you’re a hundred percent right, and I think about that; the stuff that I do when I do a Facebook post and all the comments are people in in our community, you know, patting themselves on the back or agreeing or whatever it is, I don’t consider that post a success. It’s when I reach people who disagree, who want to argue with me, who you know say they don’t need a pool fence or limited protection because they always watch their kid, then I go alright, now I reached an audience that’s outside the bubble, right.
Mick: And you just go along with that person because those that are going to be the people that’s going to have one.
Eric: Exactly, so you know…
Mick: Go back to pool fences because you do such a good job at that, and you basically have donated a lot of personal time to these initiatives. Other than the little 8 inch deep plastic 4-foot pools that you buy at the big box Mart stores, why can you buy a pool before you buy a pool fence? I can’t buy a gun before I have a firearms card, why if I’m going to go buy a pool that is going to be 36 inches deeper more, I should show that I’ve already purchased a pool fence and that is installed it and should be permitted and then the pool goes inside that fence. We got we got it backwards again, and I know it’s lobbying and it’s manufacturer bias sometimes, but you know, right is right. These people, I watch them go out and watch them go in line at the checkout line and they got, you know, ABC pool in a box, and they have no idea what they’re doing, you know. Well, we’re gonna put it out there because it’s hot, you know. Really, are you prepared to put this thing up? So, I just think again we need a strict… and I know it’s the United States of America and we have all these amendment rights, who were free to kill ourselves, but sooner or later when you’re talking about not yourself, but you’re talking about your children and the neighborhood children, I think there has to be a line drawn. We need to get a better system.
Eric: I agree and, you know, there are laws in for you know, in-ground pools in some states, or maybe even above-ground pools, and in other states, but you know, the pools you buy from the store like you’re talking about you know, there’s really no regulation on
Mick: And those are the most common for grounding.
Mick: So, you know, out of out of the pools, when I look at our stats and I look at the pool drownings which are basically four thousand, seven hundred and ninety eight full drownings in the last nine plus years, about 21 and a half percent of our, what we would call pools, but if you take that 21 and a half percent, over 90 percent of those are residential above-ground pools
Eric: Above-ground pools?
Mick: Uh-huh, yeah. So, it’s just they’re death traps and that’s why then you revert back to where we started this conversation, you revert back to the stickers on the doors, the latches, the locks, the pool fence and the safety ladder because that’s who we’re guarding against are those people that are inexperienced; their first time co-owners and have no idea what they’re doing.
Eric: Are there any stats or trends that you found surprising or the challenge in an idea that you thought you had?
Mick: I was surprised that when we started tracking this, 82% of the drownings are male. I shouldn’t be surprised because we’re risk takers, right, we’re definitely lower on the intelligence level than females, and so… but really 82 percent. And then I was again surprised that sixty two and a half percent or adults, 12 percent her teens and 25% are children. I think when we put the actual numbers to those, it was like whoa… now I see that this is defined. I was also surprised that the safest body of water in the United States is a water park
Eric: Really? I mean I guess that kind of make sense
Mick: It does with guards, they do their job; there have only been 44 recorded drownings in some nine and a half years and I’m scared to death when I take my grandkid
Eric: Yeah, cuz it’s chaos
Mick: Yeah, it’s chaos and I can’t tell where they’re at with the tube and who’s falling out and who meant to fall out, who is doing this… I don’t go to them, because all I’m doing is lifeguarding. I’m doing what I did all the way through you know high school in college, and I don’t need that kind of trauma, you know, and so, but they are safe. It was like wow, you know, that’s a lot …with all the water parks we have and all of these crazy rides we have and the wave pools and the lazy rivers unmonitored to people, nobody can see anybody even half the time, they do a pretty good job, you know.
Eric: And now I’d be because it looks dangerous right, you know, it looks like a place where people would drown so they’ve taken the proper precautions, and it’s a company so they don’t to be held liable so there’s that motivation too, right. So, I mean it kind of makes sense that they’d be safe but, you know, it just goes to show that the things that look dangerous like a water park, aren’t so as to the backyard pool that’s by itself and it looks peaceful and calm; that’s the thing you got to worry about.
Mick: Mm-hmm you’re absolutely right. We… I know there’s a lot of people out there like us… like you, like other members of different organizations that are really trying to bring attention to this and focus on it. But, where there’s not enough of us
Eric: Of course I was talking you know, to a pediatrician yesterday who her daughter drowned a few months ago and you know, she thought you know, if anybody should have known, she should have known, and you know, she couldn’t believe how little she knew about pool safety and even said she told her patients, you know, be careful around water but she didn’t stress it, you know, the way she thought it should be stressed.
Mick: And I’m sure her name’s on my list
Eric: It is, you know,
Mick: I don’t, you know… and that’s like …see that’s what I couldn’t do, you know. I can record this remote involvement right, but that’s why I have a hard time. I know Sue does too, when we go to the NDPA National Convention and actually the new ones there, it’s hard you know… it’s good because you know they blame themselves and you know that it could have been prevented and it’s just… that’s it’s a tough week. Yeah, all of a sudden you have a face to put with the name and the circumstance, and that’s not a fun thing to do. You know, I’ve said it before and I’m sure Sue feels the same and I think you may have been in that room as well, you know. Where the most powerful things that I’ve done is when I was on the board at the NDPA, each year families united invites the board of directors up into their suite, and they do the little reception area and they go around the room and each one tells story. And, you know, if that doesn’t you know make you want to work for water safety, I mean it’s hard to get through, but I don’t know… at the other end of that, you know, if that doesn’t make you leave wanting to do something, I don’t know what will, you know. They did a good job last year in Tampa because outside of the exhibit hall, each member of family united purchased a one of those large pop-ups and the child’s picture and the story of what happened is right there in front of you in print. And every time I would go out for some reason or walk down the hallway, I couldn’t help but stop and read… I read every single one of them eventually, it’s just like…