Teen promotes water safety after close call

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It was a moment that mothers live in fear of experiencing, and Kathy Shope was right in the middle of it.

One moment, she was watching her 13-year-old son Tyler and 3-year-old daughter Sarah play near the water along their Proctorville campground, and in the next instant, her daughter was gone.

“We were right there on the bank watching them, and Sarah was bent over watching the fish,” Shope said. “It was like I watching in slow motion, she went headfirst into the water and I stood up and screamed ‘Get her!’”

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Sarah almost always was made to wear a lifejacket, but Shope had not thought that the children, who had been playing on a dock, would be in any danger.

Shope began sprinting down the steep hillside, but Tyler was one step ahead of her. Without hesitation, he threw himself into the river, and for a moment, both of her children were below the surface.

Tyler soon emerged from the water, but, to Shope’s horror, he was empty handed.

“He just screamed ‘Mom, I can’t get her!’” Shope said.

Thankfully, Tyler took another chance, diving deeper this time and managing to shove Sarah to the surface by her feet.

“We were just very lucky that he was able to get her,” Shope said. “I just couldn’t imagine what could have happened if there had been a barge coming, with all the currents. I mean, she could have been gone in a heartbeat.”

Tyler has a clear memory of the events, including what prevented him from catching his sister on his first attempt.

“She had been kicking, trying to get up, and she kicked me in the face,” Tyler said with a laugh. “Then a current took me under and I had to swim back up and get her.”

Although everyone is OK now, the Shope kids have learned their lesson, especially Sarah, who now refuses to go near the water without a lifejacket.

That’s sound advice, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which says that children between birth and 5 years old should always wear jackets on beaches, docks and in boats.

There are five different types of lifejackets that are approved by the United States Coast Guard. The best for children playing near the shore would be Type II and III. Both are good for calm, inland water where there is a good chance of fast rescue. Smaller-sized Type II life jackets often have high collars to help keep a child’s face out of the water, though Type III offer more freedom of movement.

More information is available on the ODNR’s water safety site at http://www.ohiodnr.com/watercraft/.