Indiana swim coach teaches infants water survival skills

Matt Papachronis teaches babies water survival skills from his private pool in Fortville.

FORTVILLE, Ind. – It is difficult to watch a baby on the spot. But in Matt Papachronis’ private swimming pool, the child learns to survive. Hamilton Southeastern swim coach teaches young kids how to rescue themselves if they fall in the water.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under 4 years old. Anything I can do to help our community be safer or more confident around water, I want to do that,” Papachronis said. “Our main goal is to help waterproof our community. We want to make sure no more children drown.”

Papachronis has been coaching competitive swimming since the age of 21 and has spent the last few years teaching with Indy Infant Swim Resourcewho specializes in teaching water survival skills to children aged 6 months to 5 years.

“The goal is to fall from any type of perspective – whether they’re crawling from the edge of the pool or barely stepping from the edge of the pool – any type of scenario when near the water, and they would get in or fall out and be able to handle that and safely roll over on their backs and float and breathe,” Papachronis said.

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The program follows an organized curriculum and includes extensive training.

“The first lesson, there’s a lot to understanding their environment,” Papachronis said. “They’re acclimating to me. They’re acclimating to the pool, to the whole environment, to the sky around them.”

Part of the lesson is making children feel comfortable being away from their parents. Papachronis said that by the fifth or sixth week, children are fully independent in the water. They could fall in the water, roll onto their backs, float and breathe safely.

Fisherman resident Michelle Johnson and her husband have three children. Their eldest son is a graduate of the Infant Swimming Resource program in Illinois. Now her 4-year-old boy is learning. Although Duke sometimes cries during class, his mother said it was normal at first.

“Buggling the discomfort of trying to float on your back, not having a floater, not wearing glasses, so for me that was all normal,” Johnson said.

The 6 week program costs $500. Every child learns to roll over and float. A 15-month-old girl can now float alone for 30 seconds. That’s what Aubrey Herron and her husband want for the 16-month-old twins they adopted.

“We’re always around the water. So it’s really important for us to do it as a family,” Herron said. “I just want to have peace of mind before the summer that if something were to happen they could survive, run away and call for help.”

Herron swam competitively from age 6 through college and taught swimming for 10 years. But she doesn’t know how to teach life skills to young children.

“I saw a lot of lessons where it felt more like playtime in the water. Lots of singing and dancing and jumping, and I knew that wasn’t going to reduce vital skills,” Herron said. “It only takes them a few minutes to open a door or slip out of sight, and drowning can happen in two minutes or less, so there’s a lot of anxiety.”

Herron was thrilled with her boys Crew and Cowen’s first swimming lesson with Papachronis.

“He [Crew] did well in the water today, pretty close to a float on day one,” Herron said. “With Matt’s help, I think he’ll be done in a few weeks. [Cowen] did very well on her first day and floated unassisted. He really didn’t cry that hard, so that was a surprise.”

RELATED: 3-year-old girl from northern Indiana dies after being pulled from lake

Papachronis said he had taught water survival skills to around 120 children. Although many seem uncomfortable at first, Papachronis encourages parents to trust him with the results.

“They are shocked at what their child is capable of,” he said. “They have confidence in and around water. It gives them an extra layer of security that is part of a bigger picture of caring for your children around water.”

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