red-cross-swimmer.jpgA fearless 6-year-old slipped into the deep end of the pool and quickly realized she was in trouble. “I frantically used one hand to try to keep myself afloat. I was waving the other one for help.” Audrey will never forget that day, neither will her rescuer, 4-year old Abby Burgason.

Seven years ago, the two girls learned a life-saving lesson during a Red Cross Learn-to-Swim class at their community pool in Wickenburg, Arizona. The class is designed to introduce children, ages 4-7, to water skills. (Photo: Abby Burgason (left) jumped into action to save her pal Audrey Crawford with skills learned in their Red Cross swimming class.

One part of the class focuses on helping someone struggling in the water. The technique involves lying down on your belly, reaching out a hand, talking to the victim, pulling the victim to safety and securing his/her hand. That lesson stuck with 4-year old Abby. Just a couple of days after learning the rescue technique, she used it to save her friend, Audrey.

“I remember seeing Abby’s hand through the splashing water so I grabbed it,” said Audrey. “It was really scary.”

“Terrifying” is how Audrey’s mother would describe what happened. Glenda Crawford was just a few feet away from the pool, but separated by a fence. She witnessed the rescue. “My heart stopped when I saw Audrey fall in the water,” said Glenda. “I was so amazed when I saw Abby move into action to help Audrey. To see such a little person do such a big thing is simply amazing! I am so grateful to Abby.”

The blue-eyed, 11-year-old Abby has a hard time remembering all of the details, but every time she runs into Glenda she gets a big hug and warm thank-you from her friend’s mom. “I just helped someone who needed help,” said the modest adolescent.

It didn’t take long before everyone in Wickenburg heard the story. Abby was a little hero and was presented with a commendation and a bag of lifesavers by the mayor of Wickenburg, and a certificate from her Red Cross instructors.

The girls went on to become strong swimmers. They still talk about what happened and have a clear understanding why having water skills is so important. “Learning to swim has helped me become confident in and around water,” said Abby. “I’m glad I learned at a young age,” she added.

Learning to swim is one layer of protection for water safety. Others include pool barriers, door alarms, proper equipment and supervision. “On top of learning how to swim, everyone should learn how to respond to an emergency. Learning pool safety, CPR and first aid are a big part of our summer programs,” said Tonya Forbrook, Wickenburg recreation coordinator and Red Cross water safety instructor. “Drowning is preventable,” she added. “The Red Cross can teach children and adults how to swim, but everyone has to be responsible around water.”

For more than 90 years, the Red Cross has helped keep people safe in and around the water with our learn-to-swim, water safety and life guarding programs. To learn more about Red Cross water programs, contact your local chapter.

Tracey Kiest is a member of the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter.

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