Champion swimmer challenges Olympic skier to marathon Montreal dip to teach water safety
MONTREAL -- Two decorated athletes took the first ever International Drowning Awareness Day to the next level by crossing Montreal’s Olympic Basin Sunday to promote water safety awareness.
“I’m not a big swimmer, I’m a skier,” said three-time Olympic skier Alex Bilodeau. “It was a challenge for me to swim three kilometres today ... just to raise awareness.”
Bilodeau was invited to do it by his friend, and international swimming champion, Xavier Desharnais, for whom the dip was, well, a swim in the park.
An estimated 80 people drown every year in Quebec. Desharnais says the point of the marathon, was to share some common mistakes people make around water.
A big one, he says, is failing to realize that swimming pools and open water are drastically different.
“In a pool, you have lanes, clear water, walls, lifeguards,” explained Desharnais. “In open water, you can’t see the bottom, [and there’s] nothing to grab on to.”
Even for the Traversee Lac St- Jean champion, he says that’s why he rarely swims alone.
Raynald Hawkins, the director of the Lifesaving Society, echoed that tip.
“Fifty per cent of victims are alone,” he said. “No one can help you, no one can call 911, and for sure, because you’re alone, we don’t have an explanation [for what happened].”
What’s more, Hawkins says 90 per cent of boating related drownings happen because the victims weren’t wearing life jackets.
With those two changes alone -- swimming with a friend and always wearing a life jacket -- he says than 70% of drownings could be prevented.