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BLOOMINGTON — A director of a group working to prevent drowning in the Great Lakes area says stigmatizing drowning hampers such efforts.

“People blame the victim, blame the parent or caretaker or blame Darwinism,” said Dave Benjamin, executive director of public relations and project management for the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

But doing that gives people a false sense of security that it wouldn't happen to them or their loved ones, said Benjamin.

In fact, it can happen to anyone and it can happen quickly.

Part of the problem, according to Benjamin, is that people don't know what they don't know.

Few people know that swimming ability alone might not be enough in a water emergency, he said.

“Sixty-six percent of all drowning victims were good swimmers,” he said.

But factors such as cold water, waves, underwater hazards, dangerous currents and disorientation following unexpected immersion can limit swimming effectiveness and affect how quickly fatigue can set in.

About half of drowning victims never intended to be in the water, he said. They may have fallen off a boat or pier or were washed off by waves.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said males are three times more likely to die from drowning than females.

Males tend to be greater risk takers, more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to overestimate their swimming ability, said Benjamin.

“Do not dare your friends to jump off the pier. Do not dare your friends to swim to the buoy,” he said.

Rather than saying, “You can't fix stupid,” Benjamin advocates fixing misconceptions through education.

“Schools have fire drills, tornado drills, active shooter drills and earthquake drills, yet students are more likely to die of drowning than those causes combined,” he said.

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Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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