With the unofficial start to summer coming up, students have been receiving valuable lessons about swimming safety.
On May 21, one week before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Ali Joy '92 led Middle School Chapel, giving a heartbreaking reminder about why it's important to know how to react when caught in a rip current.
Mrs. Joy lost her husband, Austin Joy '89, in a tragic accident on June 15, 2018 in Atlantic Beach, NC. No warning flags were flying that evening as the couple's twin daughters headed into the water. Suddenly, a rip current caught the girls. Austin and Ali raced through the water to help, and Marines and surfers also came to their aid. Everyone was brought back to shore, and the girls and Ali were OK.
But Austin had stopped breathing. He could not be resuscitated.
“The most unimaginable horror," Mrs. Joy told the Middle School students listening through Zoom.
Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East Coast. They might appear calm from the shore, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports they move at speeds of up to 8 feet per second, faster than an Olympic swimmer. They kill an estimated 100 people annually - that's often more than the number of deaths from tornadoes and shark attacks combined.
If caught in a rip current, NOAA advises swimmers not to fight. But it's natural to panic in such a situation. Mrs. Joy offered this advice: BRING a float when you go to the beach and GRAB the float before you head into the water. If you don't have a float and get caught in a rip current, BE THE FLOAT by floating on your back. Don't fight to get out of the current. It will bring you out from shore, but will not pull you under. As a float, or with a float, you will save your energy while help is on the way.
Those points of emphasis are the focus of an organization that Mrs. Joy founded after her husband's passing, Float Don't Fight. Their mission is to promote awareness about rip current safety, empowering beachgoers with the tools to survive a rip current. The Float Don't Fight team is comprised of a number of Bulldogs. John Gaidies '88, Mrs. Joy's brother, is the program director. Tom Gill '89, Chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service and a member of the Float Don't Fight board, has helped spread the message. Brack Hill IV '89 also serves on the board.
“Rip currents are a silent killer," Mrs. Joy said.
The same week that Mrs. Joy spoke, Kristen Kirkman, Director of Norfolk Academy's Vaughan Aquatic Center and Varsity Swim Coach, offered more lessons to Lower School students.
Mrs. Kirkman has been involved in teaching children around the Tidewater area to swim for years. As a physical education teacher at NA, she takes time in class to do an annual water safety unit. This unit is typically in May, as the weather gets warmer and pools begin to open.
In addition to rip current safety, Mrs. Kirkman's lessons include:
- Always swim while being supervised. Never swim alone.
- Read all posted warning signs.
- Look before you leap. Make sure it's clear below.
- Always enter water feet first until you can determine the depth.
- Think don't sink. Float on your back or tread water when you get tired.
- If someone is in trouble, throw them a float or something else to help.
- Stay in shallow water when learning how to swim.
- Red flag at the beach means no swimming.
- Get out of the water in bad weather.
- Always wear a lifejacket when doing water sports.
To learn more about Float Don't Fight and its message, visit floatdontfight.org.