NEW TAMPA — Today Elisa Berson swims competitively for Freedom High School, but she once was so afraid of water that even baths made her nervous.
The fear started at age 3, when she nearly drowned at a playmate's pool party. She was reaching for a pink balloon that had drifted toward the pool when she fell in, plunging to the bottom. Her mother rescued her in moments, and physicians at the party helped expel water from her lungs.
She was fine physically, but not emotionally. It took two years of patient encouragement, mainly by her father, a former lifeguard, before she could get comfortable in the water.
"Once I started swimming, I said, 'Wow, I really like this.' I really developed a passion for it.''
The incident inspired Berson, an 18-year-old senior, to organize "April Pool's Day,'' a water safety festival being held today from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the New Tampa Family YMCA, 16221 Compton Drive.
The free festival, arranged for families and young children, features water safety and rescue techniques, CPR training, a water safety puppet show, arts and crafts, a visit by a fire truck, performance by a synchronized swimming team, and hands-on activities for children.
Berson organized the festival as part of the work she is undertaking as recipient of a Bezos scholarship from the Aspen Institute in Colorado. She was one of 12 juniors nationwide last summer to receive the honor.
The festival will focus on the fun of knowing how to swim, as well as the necessity of it in the Sunshine State.
"Drowning,'' she notes, ''is one of the leading causes of death of children in the state of Florida.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]