Near drowning in Calgary YMCA Reminds Us That an Accident Can Happen Anytime


By Karina Renaud

Saturday morning swimming lessons are a staple in most young family weekly activity calendars. On September 28th, what would have otherwise been a normal class turned to near tragedy for a Calgary family. Three-year-old Ellie Friya fell into the YMCA swimming pool without a floatation device. Both her instructor and the lifeguard on duty’s backs were turned. Fortunately, Ellie’s mother’s quick actions saved her daughter’s life.

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This event is an important reminder of the dangers of water and the need for constant vigilance when children are around water – accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. In little Ellie’s case, there were three people looking after her: an instructor, a lifeguard and her mom. Fortunately, her mother saw the incident.  However, we should first focus on survival skills and what to do in case of an accidental fall.  This can be taught through play and doesn’t need to be scary or traumatic for the child.  We teach preschoolers how to stop, drop and roll in case of a fire. Why not teach them what to do if they fall in the water? Both elements can have tragic consequences.

This raises my second point.  Are we providing enough training and specialized instruction to lifeguards and instructors working with your children?  At pools, lifeguards have a large area to watch and need to make decisions where to focus their attention.  More consideration is needed when deciding on the number of lifeguards needed during lesson times for young children, and specific attention to these groups is necessary.  This also applies to the training and protocol for the instructor.  I am not familiar with the details of the Calgary case to judge, but I’m commenting in general, we need to expect a higher requirement of experience for instructors that are teaching children under 4 years old. Teaching young children is a very difficult mandate when it is well executed, and mature, responsible instructors with experience should be required to teach young children.  That said it will also need a shift in mindset around salaries to attract and retain highly skilled instructors.

I was glad to hear that they have the kids wear lifejackets during the group lesson, however, there are times when the jackets need to come off and this is when the accident happened.  It is not unusual for young children to get bored and fidget waiting for their turn.  This brings me to my final point, the benefits of one-on-one lessons.  During an actual group lesson the children really only get a fraction of the instruction time because it’s divided up amongst the group.  During the other times, they can get bored or cold which causes them to find ways to distract themselves.  Unfortunately, sometimes this results in situations like in Calgary where they jump into the pool when the instructor isn’t expecting it.  Group lessons can be good for some children who will learn by following other kids, but I have been involved with swimming for over 30 years and I have seen the fastest progression comes from short one-on-one lessons.  Unfortunately, there is just not enough venues that provide time for this, nor are there enough qualified and trained instructors to provide effective teaching.  We need public pools to open up to offer more one-on-one training, we need more instructor’s trained on how to teach vital skills to young children and we need our national societies to start updating their programs to address these special needs of our young swimmers.

Karina Renaud is the owner of Swim for Life with Karina Renaud inc. She instructs over 1500 private lessons per year. For more information visit or