by Trent Thomas

Infants learn emergency life-saving techniques in the water and fully clothed

It can quickly become a parent’s worst nightmare. Having a residential pool combined with toddlers nearby should make the hairs stand up on the back of most adult necks. Even with all the education, safety advances, and ordinances that try to help, incidents and accidents are an everyday occurrence. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that besides birth defects, drowning deaths are the greatest cause of death for children between the ages of 1-4. For children aged 1-14, drowning is the 2nd leading cause of death after motor vehicle accidents.

Governmental statutes and ordinances cover residential pool safety. If you own a pool, you are familiar with the barriers, gates, locks, and alarms that must be installed for compliance. But what happens when those barriers and locks fail? How can parents add a layer of safety when those processes don’t work?

Some parents recognize their children need training on how to survive on their own in the water. They understand the magnetic effect that a pool can have on young ones. Tracie Paulsen is a certified swim instructor associated with Infant Swimming Resource (ISR). Tracie has been an ISR instructor in Tucson for the last 18 years. ISR has a mission statement of “Not One More Child Drowns,” a statement that every instructor tries to impress upon parents.

Unfortunately, Tracie was motivated to teach based on tragedy. “One of my work colleagues had 4 children, and one of his children was the same age as my 18 month old kid.” Tracie did not go into details, but her friend’s 18 month old child drowned.  “Previously I had an idea of how drownings occur. My opinion was based on neglectful parents who were inattentive. But, in truth, (my work friend) was anything but that. He was a stand-up dad. I realized at that point it can literally happen to any parent,” Tracie explained.

Tracie went on to explain her prolonged grief for her friend’s family. “My grief wasn’t healthy. It kept me up at night.” Eventually, Tracie decided to take action. She got online and found one ISR instructor in the area. “The lessons were a 1-hour drive each way since it was in Oro Valley,” Tracie said. Every morning, Tracie and her baby would commit 3 hours per day (round trip) to getting her child the needed training in water survival. By the age of 2, her child was swimming on his own. Eighteen years ago, Tracie decided to commit to becoming an ISR instructor. She has since personally trained nearly 1,000 kids and has no plans to stop.

The county assessor’s office said that there are over 52,200 residential pools in Pima County. Even if your family may not own a pool it doesn’t mean your child is at less risk of drowning. From 2006-2016, during each of those years, about 20 Arizonans drowned that were aged 0-4 years old. Many more victims have non-fatal drowning injuries, that have very high rates of treatment beyond emergency rooms that require hospitalization or long-term care.

In January, a local young girl had a dangerous encounter with lake water. She was 2 years old and sitting in her stroller that was being pushed by her older 4 year old sister. Her father was holding the leash of their dog as they all walked side by side along a walking path surrounding a lake. As they were moving along the pathway, the father made a brief stop to pick up waste from their dog. With the father distracted for just a moment, the stroller continued to roll down a graded embankment that led to the lake. It only took a split second and the stroller toppled over a small ledge and went into the cold lake water, with the 2 year old girl still inside. According to the father, his daughter’s training instinctively kicked in. Even with the girl fully dressed in shoes, sweatshirt, a jacket, and pants, she simply held her breath, rolled over on her back and waited for help. Seconds later the shocked father rushed into the water. He remembers his daughter calmly looking up at him and saying, “I’m ok daddy, I can swim!” The 2-year-old girl was an ISR graduate. She had just completed a refresher ISR course 4 months before this event.

“Young kids are able to learn ISR because swimming is a sensory-motor skill. The program teaches kids when to hold their breath, kick, and roll over for air. This is all instructed by a series of hand prompts so there is consistency in learning. Even nonverbal kids are able to learn through these methods. This Includes special needs kids,” Tracie explained.

According to a local mom, “Kids are attracted to the water, but drownings can be so preventable. ISR doesn’t remove parents from the responsibility of paying attention around water.” Arming children with basic water survival skills will drastically improve their chances for positive outcomes.  There are many organizations that give youth swimming lessons. For more information on ISR specific classes, visit

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Trent Thomas

Trent enjoys writing about what effects our local community. He has served in the U.S. Army, worked as a business manager and even been an airline pilot. He and his family have lived in Vail since 2007.