Kristina Korthas gingerly handed her baby to an instructor who stood in the pool this week at the Bob Sierra Family YMCA. The instructor walked into the water several feet and let little Sophia go. • The 8-month-old surfaced and bobbed, floating on her back. • This was Sophia's fifth week of classes in Infant Swimming Resource, a program designed to teach water survival to children ages 6 months to 6 years. Floating clicked for Sophia last week and now she worked on rolling. The instructor turned her facedown. Sophia rolled — with a little help — and cried.
Instructors expect tears and wails in this program that started last month in the Bob Sierra pool. Amanda Karr became certified to teach ISR in April, after teaching swimming for 13 years.
Sometimes the babies cry when they see her.
She doesn't take it personally. She hopes the skills she teaches will keep them safe.
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Hillsborough County regularly ranks among the highest counties nationally for drowning deaths of children under 4, said Monica Mirza, executive director of the New Tampa YMCA.
Mirza enrolled her son Mason in the Tampa YMCA's first class at the South Tampa branch last March.
He was 1, adventurous and had no fear. Mirza has a door alarm and a fence around her pool, but she has seen Mason push a chair to the fence and climb it.
"It's just an extra layer of defense," she said of the class.
Karr has nine students, in one-on-one classes, which meet five days a week for six weeks. Each class is 10 minutes and starts with a checklist to access the child's energy. What was dinner, she routinely asks. When was bedtime?
"There's a lot of science to it," she said.
For babies under a year old, the goal is to teach them to float until help arrives. They start by learning breath control. Older students learn a combination of swimming with floating breaks when they grow tired.
Karr shuns inflatable armbands. They make a child vertical and give a false sense of security. She doesn't use the words fear or afraid around her students.
"Fear is learned," she said. She likes to get them before it develops. Before they know they can die.
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Parents tell her they come because they live on lakes and with pools. They have friends whose kids have fallen in and they've seen people who drowned, were rescued and live with brain damage.
The babies cry because the water is unfamiliar and they have no control over what is being done to them, Karr said.
At first, some cry through the whole session.
It's hard to listen to, said Sophia's father, Donald Korthas. He fights an urge to rescue his daughter.
"Okay, we're going to do two more floats," Karr told Sophia, leaving her to bob alone.
"She actually is quite calm in the float position," Karr said to Sophia's parents, on the deck. The couple live in Westchase and have a pool.
Then Karr pressed her thumb against Sophia's heel. If the imprint stays more than three seconds, she knows a child is tired.
"You're done," she told Sophia and passed her to her mother.
Next week, Sophia will finish the class with a test to try floating in her winter clothes. Drowning can happen in various conditions.
"It's peace of mind," said her mother, Kristina. "She's my life."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.