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Volunteers team up to teach crucial safety skills to young swimmers


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Volunteers team up to teach crucial safety skills to young swimmers Volunteers team up to teach crucial safety skills to young swimmers

Many children learn to swim as soon as they go to school if not earlier, but it’s not as often matched with teaching them about water safety.

There has been some form of instruction in water lifesaving skills in the city for decades but in recent times, a more concerted effort has been made to introduce children between eight and 14 years to abilities that might save their own – or someone – else’s life.

About 100 youngsters took part in this year’s annual Nipper Surf Lifesaving activities in Salthill, thanks to a group of volunteers made up of local lifeguards, swimming instructors and parents.

Indeed, such is the waiting list for this activity now, a lot more could be held if more volunteers were available.

With the July/August activity coming to an end for this year, the Mayor of Galway, Cllr Eddie Hoare arrived last week to congratulate the children and volunteers on another successful summer.

Cllr Hoare spoke to the children about the importance of water-safety knowledge, and said he could see the training was an activity enjoyed by both young and old.

The instruction is led by lifeguard, Ross Coll, whose mother, Patricia, was instrumental alongside Jimmy Cranny in starting swimming lessons in Galway and eventually in the provision of the public swimming pool at Leisureland.

In fact, Patricia Coll was the first female lifeguard in Galway, who much to the bemusement of her male colleagues, proved to be proficient and resilient in competitions and in her lifeguard duties.

Ross has inherited his mother’s passion for the water and safety issues on and near the water and when he’s not instructing the Nipper group in the summer months, he’s instructing in still waters in winter, namely in pools.

“A number of old-timers like myself like to help out in teaching youngsters in water safety and the ethos surrounding keeping safe in the water. Water safety is so important and all we do is provide those skills,” he says.

“We do this through swim and board races so we’re in the water and on the beach. We do it every Wednesday evening through July and August when the beach (Ladies’ Beach) is quieter and we hold another one for Juniors (ages 14-16) on Sunday mornings.”

Explaining the origin of ‘teaching the Nippers’, he says it started in Australia. The word ‘nipper’ is an endearment Down Under but it’s also a sailing term for new or young crew members.

Ross says the summer course gives youngsters a head-start on water safety, allowing them to progress and improve their skills as they get older, even passing exams to become a certified lifeguard.

“Water safety is so important and this activity is a way of keeping swimmers safe. And those who go on to get their lifeguard’s certificate can someday give back to the community the way we are and instruct the next generation.”

Cassandra Cunningham, whose three sons took part in the Nipper activity and who volunteered herself this year, is passionate about spreading the message.

“It’s invaluable for the children and they love it,” she says. “They also get to compete in the surf lifesaving sporting events up along the coast to Donegal.”

Among the skills they learn are confidence in the water and mastering techniques needed to keep themselves and friends safe at the beach. Their progress is recorded as they get older and keep participating in the programme, which is recognised by the Water Safety Ireland whose headquarters are in the city’s Long Walk.

There is a fee of €70 per child which covers the two summer months.

Pictured: A group of Galway Surf Lifesaving Nippers, accompanied by their coaches, on Ladies’ Beach, Salthill. PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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