Yesterday Backyard Lifeguards had its first official engagement. At first I tried to play it off like we were oh-so-busy and established, but I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself, and I told the hosts that they were our first customers. They were just as thrilled to be a part of it, and we all laughed like teenagers getting ready for the prom. Everything went very well. The customers were pleased, not only to find us after weeks of searching for a lifeguard, but also with the service we provided. It was a great day. One I’ll remember.
May 22 is memorable for other events. On that date in 1843 the Great Migration began when thousands left Independence, MO by wagon train on a path now called the Oregon Trail. It was the opening date of the Summer Olympics in Athens in 1906. On May 22, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson announced his goals for a Great Society that would end poverty and racial injustice. And in 2002 Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted of murder for bombing a Baptist Church in 1963, justice finally served for the families of the four little girls killed there.
May 22, 2009 was the date that ambulances were dispatched to a home in Ladue to treat eight-year-old Tabori Akushe who was found submerged in a backyard pool during a party to celebrate the end of the school year. She died, and guests who witnessed the event were notified of her passing that evening. I’m sure her family, friends, classmates, and their parents remember May 22 with sadness, horror, and maybe even some shame.
Nearly every person who contacts us in search of lifeguards raises the topic of Tabori’s death. The caller may not mention her by name, may not have even known her, but often remembers the event that became known as the “Ladue Drowning”. They hire us because they are concerned with preventing two things—an accident at their home, and a subsequent lawsuit.
So far there have been five youth drowning deaths reported in St. Louis this season, and it’s not even Memorial Day. One of them was of a five year-old boy in a backyard pool. In every case, there is some detail that satisfies us, so we can believe that situation is different from our own. We cling to that detail, make it significant, and thereby convince ourselves that our chances of having the same experience are slim. This is not uncommon. It happens with nearly all drownings where there is a question of accountability. It is a natural reaction to distance ourselves from an event for fear that—God forbid—it should happen to us.
I often wonder what people think of Tabori, of the hosts who threw that party, or of anything else related to the event. We’re probably more similar than we are different. And with an average of 20 water accidents involving children each day in the United States—over 7,000 each year—what makes so many people think it could never happen to them?
I wish things were different. I wish Tabori were still alive and that drowning didn’t claim so many youth lives. I only hope that Backyard Lifeguards can help bring about change, but I don’t delude myself. It’s a challenge to alter the perceptions that people have of children, human swimming ability, the properties of water, and of lifeguards, let alone the idea that we are somehow invincible.
I won’t forget Tabori. Like many of our clients, I never met her either. I don’t know what she was like in her eight short years, but she changed my life. She led me on a path to research and discover and establish a company dedicated to change the statistics. It seems only fitting that the day of our first gig was on the first anniversary of her death. It gives me so much hope for a future of better outcomes.