Finding Inspiration: Colin’s Hope Raises Awareness for Water Safety

Elli Overton and Judy finish their 10km for Colin's Hope

By Elli Overton, Director of Sales & Marketing

One of the many benefits of working for SwimTopia is that they support philanthropic endeavors. I recently made an on-the-spot decision to participate in the Colin’s Hope Got2Swim Lake Austin 10km as part of a relay to promote water safety. After I committed to the swim at 1am on August 22nd, while I was participating in a 24 hour Swim-Raiser for the non-profit, I realized I would have to take a half day off work to complete the lake swim! Oops, probably should have checked with my boss first, right? I guess I wasn’t thinking straight after doing flip turns for an hour in a dark backyard 25 yd pool. Luckily for me, SwimTopia CEO Mason Hale was supportive of my plans and even sponsored my swim with a donation to Colin’s Hope! Yay SwimTopia 🙂

About Colin and Colin’s Hope:
Colin's Hope for Water SafetyOn Sept 3 2015 I joined 50 or so other swimmers and water guardians in a 10km journey down Lake Austin from Lake Hills Community Park to the 360 Bridge to raise money and awareness for water safety. Colin’s Hope is an Austin based non-profit that was started after Jeff and Jana Holst’s son, Colin, drowned at age 4 in 2008. Colin was playing in a busy pool with plenty of adults watching and supervising and life guards on duty. He had just been showing his mom his new swimming skills in the shallows, having graduated from swim lessons the day before. Colin was playing with friends, splashing and ducking in and out of the fountains and sprinklers when in an instant he disappeared. “Time stood still as [Jana and her friends’] eyes swept the pool looking for him, and then, only moments later, he was pulled from the shallow water unconscious and not breathing. Efforts to revive him at the pool were unsuccessful, and Colin died at the hospital the next day, having never opened his eyes again after his swim.” [Story adapted from the Colin’s Hope website]

I remember the publicity when Colin died as I lived in the same part of Austin as the pool where the accident happened. My own son was two at the time, it was a chilling reminder than you can never be TOO careful around water. I remember being amazed when I heard that the family had started a non-profit to raise awareness for water safety. I couldn’t fathom how they could face their own personal tragedy in such a public way. But now I have met Jeff and Jana, I understand, they need to give back. They need to feel Colin’s death had a higher meaning, they want to save others from the same fate. I have been around Colin’s Hope for about 2 years; supporting them by participating in fundraising swims, donating 10% of the proceeds from my children’s book, Jay’s Swimming Journey, and volunteering at events like their Kids Tri. I have heard Jeff speak on a number of occasions, most recently on Thursday morning before our lake swim, and I am always brought to tears not only by his tragic loss, but by his courage and conviction.

On the morning of our lake swim, as we gathered and prepared, Jeff told us the story of his desire to raise awareness for water safety after Colin died and how he began to get involved with organizations like Safe Kids. At his first Safe Kids Austin meeting in 2008 Jeff had been excited to meet others who were interested in promoting water safety but found there was no one else in the room there for that cause. Since that time Colin’s Hope has created partnerships with local organizations and spread the word and Jeff has seen a drop in the drowning statistics. His mission and mantra is that drowning IS preventable, and raising awareness is the key.

Did you know: 
Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury and death worldwide, and the highest rates are among children. Overall, drowning is the leading cause of injury death among children aged 1–4 years in the United States, and is the second highest cause of death altogether in that age range, after congenital defects. [Wikipedia]

How I came to swim the Got2Swim 10km 2015:
Being a part of the Got2Swim series is a moving experience. Alissa Magrum, Executive Director of Colin’s Hope, calls it a
journey. I had done two lake swims for Colin’s Hope in the past. In 2013 I did a 4 mile solo swim with my water guardian, Bonnie, on a kayak by my side the whole way. Last year I did the 10km as part of a three person relay team where I switched out between swimming and kayaking on a tandem with friends, Caren and Marieke. This year I had wanted more of a challenge if I was going to do the lake swim, and wanted to swim it solo. Realistically I just didn’t have time to train for that and so I decided I would take a year off. When Alissa created the 24hr Swim-Raiser I thought, “great, this is a perfect way for me to support Colin’s Hope outside of the lake!” and I signed up for the midnight to 1am spot. As I was finishing up my hour swim the person doing the 3-6am time slot arrived early. Judy Putsch was training for the Highland Lakes “Monster” Challenge, swimming 5 lakes in 5 days, an average of 3 miles a day. She was also looking for a relay parter for the Got2Swim 10km. Alissa thought I would be perfect and managed to talk me into it in a jiffy.

Our 10km Journey for Water Safety:
Each team or solo swimmer in the Got2Swim event swims in memory of a child who drowned, or in honor of a non-fatal Kayaking for water safetydrowning victim. Unfortunately Colin’s Hope have a long list of kids Judy and I could choose from. Judy and I chose to swim in memory of Jaden Nwokedi, a young boy who drowned at a backyard pool party when he was 6, his mom was at the party with him and plenty of friends were around. His story very much resonated with me and with Judy. Both of us had been pulled from swimming pools in our childhoods’ before we could swim. For both of us our stories could have been like Jaden’s if someone hadn’t been there and seen us in trouble.

Early Thursday morning Judy and I organized our kayak with Colin’s Hope signs, a sign we had made for Jaden, and all that we needed to make it the next 10km down the lake (water, sports drinks, nutrition, sunscreen etc.). I was to swim first and we would change at about half way. After our safety briefing and moving talks from Jeff and Alissa, Judy and I made our way into the water to get started. It was 7:30am and the lake was beautiful and clear and the temperature was just right. It was an easy swim for us both. Doing it as a 2 person relay certainly provided me with more challenge though! Mostly it was hard to keep up with Judy on the kayak while trying to rehydrate and refuel after my own 5km swim! We had a ton of support from dedicated police boats to stand up paddle boarders, jet skiers and everything in between.

As I was swimming, thinking about Jaden and his family, I was also thinking how very lucky I am to have three beautiful andJudy and Elli Promote Water Safety healthy kids, how lucky I am that they are strong swimmers and confident around water. When we got done with the swim (at about 10:50am) there was a finish line celebration with participants and their families and friends. There I met Dana Gage, who had come down to be part of the event from Dallas. Dana has her own non-profit, The LV Project, also started in memory of the son she lost to drowning. Connor Gage was 15 when he went to a lake with some friends. Dana thought that every family had rules like hers’: that wearing life vests around a lake was compulsory, but that wasn’t the case. Dana described to me how Connor had back flipped off a boat dock with no life vest on and disappeared in the deep and murky water. A dive team found him 40 minutes later. This was another story that really resonated with me. We had hired boats twice this summer and had some serious fun with the kids, tubing and jumping off the boat. We had enforced the rule of wearing a life vest while on the boat, and while tubing, but the kids were anxious to have a break from them sometimes and would swim without them, or occasionally jump off the boat without them. What a wake up call her words were. Never again will MY family be swimming in a lake without a life vest! The dangers are real and often unpredictable or unseen. Water safety should be top of mind any time you’re around water.

The courage of parents like Jeff and Dana take my breath away.

If you’re reading this blog post it’s likely that you’re a swim parent or coach, or somehow involved with swimming. You likely have plenty of water safety awareness. Please spread the word when you’re around the water with friends and family that may not be as aware of the dangers as you are and together we can help prevent more stories like Colin’s, Jaden’s and Connor’s. You can also support Colin’s Hope with a donation here.

Layers of Protection for Water Safety