JOPLIN, Mo. —
Even before the instructor had finished giving his direction to the class of young swimmers, 4-year-old Alexa DeBerry had dunked herself underwater and had come up giggling.
“This kid is not afraid of water one bit,” said her mother, Hollie DeBerry, who was watching from the sidelines. “At a young age, she just wants to jump in.”
Alexa was among 17 swimmers — mostly children and young teens — who were part of a worldwide effort Tuesday to set a record for the world’s largest swimming lesson. Held locally at the pool of Missouri Southern State University, the effort was synchronized with the same effort in other cities around the nation and the world.
Included in the half-hour session were lessons on how to properly use pool ladders, a review of skills such as floating and arm strokes, and a discussion of the dangers of both shallow and deep water. The curriculum was provided by the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, an initiative created by the World Waterpark Association in 2010.
“I think it went really well,” said Heather Arnold, director of aquatics and wellness for Missouri Southern. “I think everyone enjoyed it.”
Arnold said the purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the importance of knowing how to swim, particularly for children. According to the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson initiative, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children younger than 14.
“We want them not to be afraid, but to have a healthy fear of the water so they’re not going around unsupervised,” Arnold said of the youngsters who participated Tuesday. “We want them to just be mindful of what’s going on around them.”
DeBerry, of Joplin, said her daughter doesn’t yet know how to swim, but lessons are something she is looking into.
“I would love to have her be able to swim, or at least be able to float and get herself out of the pool,” she said. “I think it’s important to know the basics.”
Margot Patterson, of Joplin, took her two daughters and two nephews to the swimming lesson. She said they were looking forward to jumping in the pool and possibly being part of a record-setting event, but she acknowledged that a review of swimming safety also was important.
“You want your kids to be safe, and you want them to have fun at the same time,” she said.
Patterson’s 11-year-old daughter, Beth, was primarily hoping that the record-setting attempt would be successful.
“I can tell all my friends I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records,” she said.
Arnold said groups of fewer than 25 participants would not be listed by name by the Guinness organization, but they would still be counted toward the overall total number of participants.
THE CURRENT RECORD for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson stands at 24,873 participants, representing 15 countries across five continents.