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Swimming Canada and partners deliver unforgettable experience, lifelong water safety skills to students

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By Jim Morris

For years Jeremiah Ross-Medica was afraid of the water and didn’t know how to swim.

“My mom always told me to never be afraid of anything,” said the 13-year-old student from Montreal’s École Chomedey-De-Maisonneuve.

Ross-Medica’s life changed when he enrolled in the Lifesaving Society of Canada’s Swim to Survive program which teaches basic skills of how to survive an unexpected fall in deep water. He was part of a group of 25 students aged 13 to 14 who flew to Toronto during the Olympic & Paralympic Swimming Trials, Presented by Bell, to graduate from the program.

“It was nice,” said Ross-Medica, still dripping water after his third and final lesson. “Now I like to swim.”

There were excited shouts and hoots of laughter as the students, under the watchful eyes of several instructors, splashed in the water. After the lessons, they paraded on the same pool deck where Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic swim team was named.

Wendy Schultenkamper, the Lifesaving Society’s Chief Operations Officer, was pleased to hear Ross-Medica had overcome his fear of water.  She remembers another young student who began the program terrified of water. By the end she would plunge her head under water, then pull it out with a huge smile on her face.

“That’s a win,” said Schultenkamper.

In the Swim to Survive program, students roll into the water, mimicking a fall. They are taught to tread water for one minute, then swim for 50 metres.

Working with partners Bell and Speedo, Swimming Canada and Lifesaving Society Quebec had invited nearly 200 students participating in the program to visit the Trials on different days when they were originally scheduled for Montreal. Many of the students come from communities who might not have access to swim lessons or new Canadians not familiar with Canadian waters.

“We came together in an attempt to reach the grassroots and leverage the high-profile Trials event as an opportunity to introduce more children to the sport and activity of swimming,” said Kyle Johnston, Senior Manager, Marketing, for Swimming Canada. “For the majority of these kids, this programming was their first time in the water.”

Laurence Beaulieu, Sponsorship Specialist with Bell, said the program helps give back to the community.

“We want to make a difference in the community, something that can actually save lives,” said Beaulieu. “It’s one of our pillars for Bell for Better – to create better communities by giving those tools to kids. We really feel like it makes an impact on the community.”

Tera Maloney (nee Van Beilen), who swam at the London 2012 Olympics for Canada and is now the Marketing Manager for Speedo Canada, said the collaboration with Swimming Canada, Bell and Lifesaving Society was a good fit.

“I’m a huge advocate for swimming as a swimmer myself, believing it’s the only sport that can save your life,” she said. “Canada is full of many bodies of water. The importance of (learning to swim) is pretty huge and significant .”

When the trials were moved to TPASC after a fire closed the Centre sportif du Parc Olympique for several months, Air Canada stepped up to fly the group of students to Toronto. They watched the morning preliminary races, were given lunch, then attended a presentation by Olympic medallist Sandrine Mainville, and five-time Paralympian Benoit Huot.

Mainville said it’s easy to underestimate the importance of swimming.

“For young kids, it’s very important to be able to swim because in Canada there’s a lot of open water,” she said. “Being able to know how to survive in the water, it is really important.”

Huot, who won 20 Paralympic medals, including nine gold, believes swimming lessons should be mandatory for Canadian children.

“You never know when a critical situation might occur,” he said. “Especially in Canada, there’s rivers, lakes, oceans.  We have to know how to swim.”

Raynald Hawkins, executive director of the Lifesaving Society, Quebec branch, said it was a special day for the students.

“I am confident that this experience will be etched in their memories,” he said.

To reach the planned 200 students, Bell, Speedo and Swimming Canada remain committed to offering programming to communities in Montreal this summer and planning is already underway.

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