Swim Safer with the Swim IT

Insuring your life if your swim starts to go amiss

Every month, I reluctantly dole out money for car and health insurance. And, every month I pretty much say the same thing. “This is useless.” That is, of course, until I feel the first sign of a sore throat, or I'm caught going 55 mph in a 35 mph zone (not that I would EVER do that). Insurance feels unnecessary—until you need it.

Swimming insurance is the same. In fact, Ironman just unveiled its extensive 2013 SwimStart Initiative for increased safety at many Ironman-sanctioned events.  Most triathletes have physically prepared themselves enough to at least swim the distance of their race. They feel secure, that is, until something unplanned happens. That's when the psychological panic can be stifling and downright debilitating. I applaud many of these initiatives such as health education, time trial starts, and pre-race warm-ups, but nothing is more important than an athlete's own safety advocacy and preparedness.

I was recently introduced to a new product called the Swim IT. The Swim IT is a packaged reusable personal flotation device designed to be strapped around your right leg. It's streamlined, low-drag, and provides no resistance or assistance to your swim stroke. Developer Rick Senn created the Swim IT to minimize the dangers and potential risks that come with certain swim situations. Let's face it: Mass swim starts are harrowing. Unless you're able to swim off the front of the pack or decide to wait a few minutes, you inevitably find yourself in the proverbial washing machine of fists, feet, and bodies vying for some kind of forward progress. Every race is full of safety personnel, but they simply can't see what's happening to everyone.   In the same way that seat belts provide protection in auto accidents, the Swim IT is designed to provide the user with the same type of personal protection and comfort in case of emergency or panic. You just pull the inflation tab and the reusable life jacket automatically deploys and inflates.

As a coach, I work with people of all experience levels. A few have been swimming since childhood, but most started as adults when they entered the world of triathlon. I've had experienced athletes panic in cold water; I've worked with people who swallowed too much water and couldn't catch their breath; I've seen goggles get kicked off; I've experienced severe calf cramps while swimming in a race; and I've consoled athletes who couldn't finish a race because they got hit in the head so hard during the swim that they sustained concussions. Ironically, none of these occurrences had anything to do with swim stroke or technique. They were rare circumstances that may have worked out better with a little swim insurance.

There's something to be said for having a psychological advantage, and the Swim IT provides that for those who are apprehensive about open water swimming.  This tool is also perfect for those solo long-distance training swims where no lifeguard is present. Most gym pools don't always have a lifeguard on duty and many public lakes are the same way. How many times have you seen and brushed off the “Swim At Your Own Risk” sign? Wearing a Swim IT during some of these long swims can minimize and negate some of those risks. It is important to practice deploying the life jacket in advance in order to know what to expect. It is reusable with a new CO2 cartridge and folds easily back into the reusable pouch.

Triathlon is growing exponentially, which means that mass swim starts are also growing. Unfortunately, cardiac arrest and drowning deaths in the swim leg have also increased with varied explanations as to why this may be occurring.  As Senn explained, “Sudden cardiac arrest isn’t always sudden. If you have symptoms and are wearing a Swim IT, then you can deploy your life vest, STOP and seek help.”  Of course, the alternative is to continue exerting yourself by swimming into a full blown cardiac arrest. “Without a swimmable inflatable device like the Swim IT,” he added, “You are condemned to fight against drowning while trying to signal for help.”   None of this is a guarantee of a non-fatal outcome to a tragic swim, but it is giving yourself the best opportunity to survive.

The Swim IT became race legal in all USAT and Ironman-sanctioned events in the Fall of 2011. Please note: deploying the Swim IT during a race does result in disqualification. In addition to triathletes, they are targeting swim teams, open water swimmers, and even safety personnel at races.

I never go for a long bike ride without my helmet, and I never go for a solo long run without my ID and cell phone. Neither are guaranteed to prevent an accident, but both provide an extra level of confidence and safety. Why wouldn't you want to do the same for the swim?

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