Summer is here and we’re all excited – days by the pool, water sports, sun tans, and barbecues. But summer also brings with it an increased risk for water related injuries. During the summer months, we see an increase in water related spinal cord and brain injuries here at Craig; and as experts in recreation related injuries, we want to provide you with some tips for enjoying the water safely while living your summer to the fullest.
Water Safety Tips
When looking at swimming and boating in different types of bodies of water and things like surfaces around the pool, there are some important things you want to keep an eye out for and remember to keep you safe:
- Check water depth before diving and don’t dive into water that is less than 12 feet deep - CDC
- Look out for slippery surfaces around pools and keep a towel close to wipe up puddles
- No running around pool decks
- Limit alcohol consumption near water wear a lifejacket if you’re drinking alcohol
- Always wear a lifejacket while boating
- Never dive headfirst off of a boat or into a lake or river until you know the depth of the water and if there are any obstacles in the water
- Keep an eye on everyone you’re with while boating
- Know your surroundings and watch out for other boats
In addition to the tips above, there are some additional water safety tips for people with spinal cord and/or brain injuries:
- Wear sunscreen and have a plan for regulating your body temperature
- Be aware of how the water and sand affects your skin and take precautions to avoid skin tears and injuries
- Be cautious on unstable surfaces like boat docks
- Be aware of your wheels at all times when pushing around a body of water
- Ask for help stabilizing your wheelchair if the surfaces around water are slippery, especially when trying to complete a transfer
- Wear a lifejacket around bodies of water
This summer, Jonah, a Craig outpatient, joined the Therapeutic Recreation Department’s paddling outing to kayak Big Soda Lake in June. This would be his first time back out on the water since his injury, but with his experience as a rower in high school, Jonah said the movement of paddling was still familiar to him. “It was really fun. It was very similar to the kayaking I did before my injury, and I think whenever you find something that’s similar to what you were doing before, it's really enjoyable,” Jonah says.
When Jonah sustained a SCI earlier this year diving into a bay along the coast of his home state of California, he came to Colorado to rehabilitate at Craig. Since then, he and his mother, Darcy, have become more aware of the injuries that can happen in and around water and want to share with others what they’ve learned about water safety.
“We've heard of many injuries happening similar to Jonah’s and it's a difficult issue to talk about sometimes, but I think going forward we feel like we could be advocates for others,” Darcy says. “I don't know how we could prevent other injuries but to share our story and share Jonah’s story.”
“I don't think a lot of people realize how easy it is to get hurt and just affect your life for a really long time,” Jonah added. “Just be really careful, know how deep the water is. It's really important to not dive headfirst; jump in feet first. Diving headfirst is a lot riskier, because you can go pretty deep once you dive in. You don't realize how fast you can hit the bottom.”
Craig grad Elizabeth “EB” Forst’s love for the water began early on in her life; she started swimming competitively at age 5, has been a SCUBA diver for 20 years and spent 8 years as an aquatic physical therapist. In 2014, her relationship with the water was significantly changed when she sustained a SCI diving into a swimming pool and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. During EB’s rehabilitation at Craig, therapeutic recreation specialist Carol Huserik found out about her experience in the water and encouraged her to get back into the water with their adaptive diving program.
“Carol was determined to get me back in the water and overcome those emotional baggage ties that hold you down after an injury in the water,” EB says. “There was that first moment where they tried to put scuba diving equipment on me again and I was like, ‘I have no idea how this is going to go down.’ But I had trust and faith in the people around me, and the team was amazing. We had all of the safety precautions in process. And from that point on, the water became my best friend again. I was able to get over that emotional hurdle and go back in the swimming pool.”
Today, EB speaks about water safety out of the experience she has gained from her journey with the water. “I have a greater respect for the water now than I ever did. Your life changes in just a flash, in just an instant, and that's what happened to me,” EB says. “I think it's really important to just make sure that there are just a lot of precautions in place. Like if you're going to be around swimming pools or the ocean, it's really important to know what you're doing. Be in the right state of mind; have a good group around you and communicate amongst yourselves when you're partaking in these activities.”