Officials launching new effort to teach Arizona adults how to swim

PHOENIX - 43 people in the Valley drowned in 2013. Of those 43, far more than half were adults and that's why safety experts and officials are launching a new effort to try and teach adults how to swim.

Sonja Smith was terrified of the water before she started taking swimming lessons.

"I had no idea what the water was like. I was petrified of the water and I felt like I had to overcome that fear," said Smith.

Smith said that once she started taking lessons it only took her a couple of months to get comfortable in the water.

To get over her fear, Smith said that during her lessons she stayed focused on the one person she was learning to swim for.

"I have a son and I feel like it's important to model good behavior to him. My husband travels for work and I want to be able to save my child in case something happens," said Smith.

In all, 29 adults drowned in Maricopa and Pinal counties last year. One of those people was professional baseball player Frank Castillo.

Castillo's widow Cari Castillo said finding out what happened to her husband was the worst phone call of her life.

"I was on my way home and the phone rang. It was the sheriff’s office. They made me pull over and told me that I had to go pick up my daughters at Bartlett Lake. They told me that my husband went under the water and divers were looking for him now. I just knew right then that he had passed," said Castillo.

Castillo said she knew Frank was gone because he didn't know how to swim.

It's unclear exactly why Castillo went into the water but experts said it can often be hard to spot the signs of drowning.

Melissa Sutton with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona said, the most common signs include panic in the eyes, inability to breathe, falling of the arms, or a complete lack of motion.

"It doesn't look like a scene from Baywatch, it can be very hard to spot and there might not be a call for help," said Sutton.

Kelly Liebermann, Paramedic with Phoenix Fire Department, said 3 people have drowned this year in Phoenix alone.

Libermann said that doesn't include the number of non-fatal drownings which can also  carry lifelong consequences.

"People can have brain damage because the brain starts to die after about 4 - 6 minutes. Once it starts to die there's no way to heal it. That's why CPR is so important," said Libermann.

There are lots of different resources available here in the Valley for adults who are interested in learning to swim.

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