By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun
11:07 PM EDT, June 16, 2011
For the three Wigley brothers, the pool outing was more about doing cannonballs and pretending to be alligators than being part of a worldwide event.
But for the staff at the Roger Carter Recreation Center in historic Ellicott City, Tuesday's focus was on gathering enough children learning about water safety to earn the only county-operated pool a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Operators of hundreds of swimming pools on six continents and in 17 countries, 48 states, and Washington, D.C., pooled their resources in a combined attempt to hold the World's Largest Swimming Lesson as a way to draw attention to preventing childhood drowning, according to wlsl.org. The lesson took place at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time, or 11 a.m. here. Organizers said they set the record, though they are still calculating precise numbers.
"We looked at this event as a chance to be part of a world record, which is a very cool thing, and as a way to promote swimming lessons, which we're always definitely trying to do," said Julia Sajaukas, the center's facility director.
Deb Wigley of Halethorpe was the first to arrive for the event with sons Seth, 7, Gabe, 6, and Caleb, 3. The boys, whose 4-month-old sister, Abigail, stayed home, had begun their summer break from Lamb of God School the week before.
"It's fun to be a part of it," said Seth through chattering teeth, after stepping out of 78-degree water that lifeguards said recent heat waves had made unseasonably warm for mid-June.
Jumping in the water and pretending to be an alligator by using his forearms to pull his body out of the beach-entry pool were his two favorite parts of the lesson, Gabe said.
"Can we get back in the pool now?" he asked, his thin, wet frame shivering in the 65-degree air.
Sajaukas speculated that the drop in temperature from the mid-90s might have put a chill on the idea of mid-morning water play for many of the 31 moms and kids who had pre-registered — only 15 of them showed up.
But despite that and the fact that Howard County public schools are still in session, the site still more than met the eligibility requirement of a combination of 25 swimmers and staffers, she said.
Word that an estimated 25,000 global participants at hundreds of locations had successfully held the World's Largest Swimming Lesson was posted online on Facebook at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, followed later by a photo of Olympic swimmers Summer Sanders and Rowdy Gaines holding the framed certificate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
The previous record of 3,971 people in 73 different locations across the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and South Korea was set June 3, 2010, according to the website.
Participating sites have two weeks to submit their paperwork and videos confirming participation, so further details about the new record aren't expected for at least three weeks when verification is completed, said Carson Nickell, the county's sports and aquatics director.
Long the standard for extreme achievement in just about any measurable challenge, the Guinness Book of World Records contain outlandish entries just waiting to be broken. On June 13, Junrey Balawing, an 18-year-old Filipino, was certified as the world's smallest man at 23.6 inches tall, for example. That same day, 70-year-old Bob Kurtz of Alabama completed 1,850 holes of golf in seven days to smash the old record by 49 holes.
The largest swimming lesson challenge seemed more easily achievable than most Guinness records, many said.
"Entering was simple enough to do, and we felt it would promote swimming safety," said Allan Harden, superintendent of sports and adventure for the county department of recreation and parks.
Since students in Howard County public schools won't begin their summer break until the last bell rings Wednesday, Rhonda Moody of Columbia could only bring Sam, 5, the youngest of her four sons.
"They're all built like their dad. They're just straight up and down and when you put them in the water they just sink," she said with a laugh.
"It's been hard teaching them to swim," she said of Nathan, 11, Alex, 10, and Jason, 7. "But they're persistent and they're getting the hang of it."
Sajaukas told the gathering before the group lesson that drowning is the second leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14. While research shows there's an 88 percent chance that children who take lessons won't drown, children who haven't been taught to swim by third grade probably won't learn, she said.
Instructors at Roger Carter, who teach the American Red Cross curriculum, were creative in soliciting participation for the event, emailing parents of children who'd taken lessons previously and contacting area preschools about coming for a free lesson in water safety for a good cause, Nickell said.
But next year the county may rethink its strategies in attracting participants for a repeat challenge, Harden said.
"As with anything, sometimes people only equate value with something that has a charge," he said. "Perhaps next year we will charge a fee and the money raised will go to a good cause."
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