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“It’s An Epidemic”- Rowdy Gaines On Water Safety & Drowning Prevention

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Rowdy Gaines at the Rosen YMCA Aquatic Center, Orlando. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

As the weather warms up, Floridians- and visitors to the sunshine state- are hitting the beach, spending more time at the pool, and getting out on lakes & rivers.  The flip side to all of this aquatic activity is the number of drownings that take place. According to the state department of health, Florida leads the country in drowning deaths for children ages one to four.

Rowdy Gaines, who won gold at the Olympic Games in 1984, is on a mission to change that. Gaines is currently the vice president of aquatics at the YMCA of Central Florida, where he promotes water safety. 

“It drives me crazy when I hear about a child drowning,” says Gaines.

“It is an epidemic in our country, and I like to feel like we are doing something about it at the Central Florida Y, certainly in this building [the Rosen YMCA Aquatic Center], and that’s the fact that we’ve found the cure to drowning, and that is swim lessons.”

“The really interesting stat is the fact that 80% of those drownings happen right in front of an adult. That means that the adult is within 10 feet of that child. And that’s because in this age, the adult becomes distracted.”

Gaines says he has a google alert set up for every time there’s a news story about a drowning.

“A child drowning, that’s the google alert I get, and I get them all the time because I want it to be a constant reminder,” says Gaines.

“My job, at least here in Central Florida, is to make sure that we try to eradicate this.”

This week the YMCA of Central Florida is offering free swimming lessons at some of its locations across six counties.


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Matthew Peddie

About Matthew Peddie

Host of WMFE's Intersection & Assistant News Director

Matthew Peddie grew up in New Zealand and studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating with an MA in Journalism he returned to Christchurch, working as a reporter for Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. He’s reported live from the scene of earthquakes, criminal trials and rugby ... Read Full Bio »