Alison Tummond: can’t get through a day without swimming eighteen lengths
Alison Tummond has devoted her swimming career to teaching babies not to drown. I met her tackling actual ocean waves here where she was cooling down after Arizona’s punishing heat.
“Bode Miller’s daughter Emeline drowned, in a California swimming pool, a couple of years ago,” says Alison. “She was 19 months old. It’s what I’ve been trying to prevent for 36 years.”
“In California,” says DDS, the state’s Department of Developmental Services, “drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths among children under the age of five.” In 2018, fifty-five young children drowned in California, 32 of them in swimming pools.
“I have been teaching for 41 years,” says Tummond. “I specialize in 2-5-year-old survival, and elementary stroke development. The #1 cause of death for children under the age of five is drowning. Especially Arizona and Florida. Drowning is very silent. It takes anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes for a child to drown. Most of the time, the child is not in their bathing suit, so they were not intending to be swimming. It’s a very silent death.”
She says most parents are unaware of the dangers, and how quickly this can happen. “Phoenix, like LA, is the land of swimming pools. And we have a lot of lakes. It’s toddlers: once they get through the dog doors, the gates get left open, there are no [pool] barriers, the barriers break down, the child opens the door, it is so easy.”
Tummond teaches kids to swim and float from the age of two. “But the risk happens as soon as the child begins to move. Probably about a year old.”
Her dad was an ocean lifeguard in his youth, in Coney Island, New York. “I have been swimming competitively my whole life. And when I was in high school and college, I decided I was going to be a lifeguard, and the pool manager I had did not like teaching young children to swim, so he gave it to me, as a 16-year-old. So I developed this knack of teaching young children to swim. It was very challenging, because these kids are very scared and very hard to control. I put myself through college on swimming income. It’s a real niche market to be able to teach young children. They are much more capable of swimming than people realize. And boys are easier than girls, because their play is more physical. They cry less.”
She says a lot of instructors teach a child only to roll over in the water and float on their back. “But I teach a child to swim, and find the wall and climb out. Because if the child misses the roll-over, after they fall in, and they don’t get their face out of the water, and they start to panic, they’re done. There’s a lot of potential with a child two and above. I would rather a kid have enough skills to swim to the wall and climb out, rather than lie on their back and wait for somebody to come and find them.”
Arizona stats are high, but she says California has a problem, too. “I don’t have your statistics, but any time you have a pool, or a bathtub, or a toilet, or a bucket, there’s a lot of different ways a child can drown.”
And, she says, don’t even talk to her about water wings. “Those wings, puddle jumpers, are unbelievably dangerous. Because they hold a child vertical in the water, and when you swim you need to be horizontal. That’s why Bode Miller’s daughter drowned. She was used to wings. And when she fell in without wings, she went down vertically. and when you swim your legs have to be behind you. You can’t do that with wings.”