There are days when I can’t get a handle on this column at all. No matter what I want to say I can’t seem to make it come out right or make sense of it, this week’s topic is one that has been sloshing around in my head for a few weeks now and I couldn’t work out what the “angle” was but I’ve found it now so please read on.
Just the other day a group of six 12 year olds swam across the English Channel, they took turns swimming a mile at a time and made the crossing in 13.5 hours. The only reason I came across it was because someone retweeted it on Twitter. I was amazed not only by the feat but also by the lack of coverage. What a fabulous story this could have been. Such endurance and teamwork and for a section of the community that are often vilified as hoodie wearing hoodlums. I scoured the internet news sites looking for the story and only managed to find a short paragraph in the BBC Bristol pages where our aquatic athletes came from. However, whilst I was trying to find more news on this story I stumbled across a far sadder story. Another six children this time aged 13 to 18 drowned whilst playing around a river bank in Louisiana. One of the boys slipped in the deeper water and as he couldn’t swim started to panic. None of his friends could swim but they all tried to save him and died in their attempt.
The contrast between the two stories was so stark and yet I couldn’t find a way to shape it. The majority of the channel swimmers came from independent schools, was that the story? In the last Olympics 34% of our athletes came from independent schools yet only 7% of children go to independent schools. There’s a whole column there but not one that seemed relevant to these two stories. Then there was the fact that the American teenagers were all black and the Bristol children were all white. If there was an angle there I’d be blowed if I could find it. Maybe it was the fact that we don’t do enough in our media to praise the efforts of teenagers but would rather focus on negative stereotypes. I must admit this was where I was going until I opened the letters page in the Cornish guardian to discover that Polkyth are considering the removal of the springboard from the swimming pool.
Suddenly the angle was so obvious that I was amazed I hadn’t noticed it before. Children need to know how to swim! They need to be confident in water. Tom Daly started his Olympian career from a 1m board, the fact that there isn’t a high board in all of Cornwall is another matter and if St Austell do get rid of their board there won’t be a 1m board in the whole of Cornwall either. The loss of a diving board is not the loss of a swimming pool but it is the loss of a skill; it requires confidence and technique to go head first off the end of a sprung board. Even if that doesn’t appeal, who can forget the fun of running, bouncing and soaring off the end? All children are attracted to water and we need to make them safe. From confident swimmers we may get channel swimming, record breaking Olympians but more importantly, we will not have grieving communities, struggling to cope with the loss of their loved ones who died trying to save their friends.