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Merrimack Valley

December 8, 2012

Learning from loss: the Merrimack River tragedy 10 years later

10 years later, tragedy still a teaching tool for river's dangers


Markus Fischer, executive director at the Boys and Girls Club, agreed.

”It feels like if it was yesterday,” said Fischer. “We’re trying to bring something positive out of his horrible tragedy and we need to continue to make kids safe.”

Learning from loss

Club members from age 7 to teenagers enroll in an eight-week swimming program thanks to a grant from the Michael Phelps Foundation. The program offers the same techniques and principles used by the 18-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer. Named after the “Individual Medley,” Phelps’ signature event, the program goes by its abbreviation, “IM.” That also refers to the self-affirming “I am.”

The program consists of five focus areas: IM safe, water safety instruction; IM fun, recreational aquatic activities; IM fast, structured and organized swimming; IM healthy, health and wellness; and IM successful, goal-setting education.

”There is some anxiety from the parents about allowing kids to go into the pool,” said Markus Fischer, executive director at the Boys and Girls Club. “What it comes down to is breaking the cycle of fear.”

Karyn Hickey, aquatics director at the Boys and Girls Club, said those fears are eased after the parents watch their children at the lessons. In addition to the weekly 45-minute lessons, Hickey said members of the Lawrence Fire Department speak to the children twice a year. The first presentation is done before the river freezes and firefighters talk about ice safety and staying off the ice. The second is done before the summer when club members are reminded to never go into the ocean or in the pool alone.

”You not only need to know about being safe in the water, but what to do when you or someone else needs help. It’s a life-long skill whether you’re 7 or 70,” Hickey said.

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