Wear a vest; take swimming lessons

Memorial Day. Supposed to be 90 degrees. The beginning of summer, hopefully a

summer filled with fun.

That fun most always involves relief from the hot, sticky air by wading or

plunging into cool waters of a lake, stream, pool or pond.

I don’t want to put a damper on the fun, but … sadly, each summer brings reports

of tragic drownings. People fall from a boat and are under and gone before

anyone can get to them.

Little children step into deep water in a pool and by the time they’re recovered

it’s too late to revive them.

I pray each night for God to somehow comfort the precious family that this

happened to. It could have been one of my own little great-grandchildren.

And I pray, too, for the family of my friend, who was in his 80s when he hit a

step-off in a farm pond and could not get back to the surface.

To avoid such, people need to do two things:

Wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest at all times when around deep water.

And learn to swim. It’s not that difficult. Take lessons, practice, and soon

you’ll be swimming on your own. And, like riding a bicycle, it’s a skill you’ll

never lose.


I almost left this world at age 11 because I’d never learned to swim. I’d had no

opportunities to learn in Ashville, Ohio, where I lived before moving to

Beattyville, Ky. (not the town of that name in southcentral Kentucky but the one

across from the lower end of Portsmouth).

I wouldn’t admit to the guys that I couldn’t swim. I’d seen puppy dogs swim the

first time they were tossed into water and so I figured there wouldn’t be much

to it.

As part of my initiation to become a member of the Beattyville Braves, I dove

from a high limb into 15-foot depths of the rain-swollen Ohio. Thankfully, my

big brother (and hero), Bootie, had come from the hay fields to take a dip. He

jumped in and pulled me out as I was going down for the second or third time.

The others, who gave me membership because of my hara-kiri heroics, taught me

how to swim, first with a car inner tube around my waist.

Before the summer was over I could swim the half-mile-wide river over and back.

That was kind of foolish, too, because none of us owned a life vest. Cramps

could have taken us under.


We thought that was quite an accomplishment, but in the summer of 2010, Mimi

Hughes, a Tennessee teacher, 53 at the time, swam the entire 981-mile length of

the Ohio River, from Pittsburgh to Cairo!

I was working as a reporter for the Portsmouth Daily Times and interviewed her

when she reached Portsmouth, completing about 360 miles of her swim.

She made about 20 miles a day and spent the night wherever her venture found

her. Volunteers followed along in a boat.

She was doing it for a cause – to raise money and awareness for closing the gap

in education for girls around the world.

It was for boys, too, but it’s girls that are being held back, she said,

especially in some of the Mid-Eastern countries where they are treated like

second-class citizens.

Hughes was teaching remedial reading and learning strategies in Taft, Tenn., and

wanted to see young women and girls have opportunities for better education. She

wanted them to grow up to be better citizens and solvers of the world’s


Several organizations with like-mind were promoting her event.


Not long after beginning her swim, Hughes said she swam through water that

contained some kind of toxic element strong enough to eat part of the rubberized

coating off her wetsuit and bring a bit of a sting to her skin.

“I don’t want to take away from the mission statement of being responsible for

educating girls, but when we talk of balancing the imbalances it also applies

environmentally,” she said.

“When we become better educated we know and understand the need to protect the

water we use for drinking. People need to educate their children of the need for

clean, healthy water. A democracy demands responsibility, socially and



My friend and colleague Tom Clay has launched a show titled “Hooked on the

Outdoors” to run weekly on WOWK Channel 13 News.

The show, which debuted two weeks ago, can be seen at 7 p.m. Thursday with

repeats at 6 a.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday.

Tom, a chip off the Old Block (he’s the son of magazine writer/photographer Soc

Clay), is certain to entertain you with useful how-to information mixed with a

great sense of humor.

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected].

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