Have you ever gone swimming in open water alone? Many swimmers, myself included, love swimming in the great outdoors, even if we can’t find someone to go with us. But swimming alone in open water can be dangerous. A recent incident made me realize just how much, and has helped me make a few safety changes to my own open water swimming.
On Tuesday, June 23rd, my friend Jim Teisher and I went for a swim in the Clackamas Cove. Jim and I met up with Tanker, Aaron Hawkins. Aaron and I have been swimming on a regular basis in both the Cove and Willamette River.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. There were dozens of people enjoying the warm weather and the cool water. We decided to swim to the eastern corner of the Cove, which is about 500 meters away, and then swim back to our entry point. When we were halfway, we stopped and checked in with each other. We talked for a few minutes and then swam back to the start.
Feeling good, we decided to keep going, only this time about half the distance we swam earlier. Our destination was the first set of white buoys which are part of a training course used by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Marine Unit. Jim and I took a break at the buoys and spent some time catching up, treading water, and enjoying the day. Just as we were about to begin swimming, Jim started to slip underwater. At first, I thought he was just retying his swimsuit, but then I realized something was wrong.
Immediately, I grabbed hold of Jim and rolled him onto his back. I began swimming as fast as I could, kicking harder than I ever have in my life. While towing Jim in, I repeatedly asked if he was okay while checking to see if he had a pulse and was breathing. Getting no response, I whistled and yelled as loud as I could for someone to call for 911. Heading toward the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Marine Unit dock, I was swimming fast with the help of my fins and adrenalin, but realized I needed to get to the shore instead, and as fast as possible. I yelled for someone with a stand-up paddle board, thinking I could roll Jim onto the board and make a quicker extraction. It didn’t take long for a kayaker to come and offer help and tow me to the closest shore.
Once we reached the shore, I immediately began CPR, and tried to give Jim mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Shortly after, Aaron joined me for two-person CPR. We continued until professional rescuers arrived on the scene. The rescue crew was able to get Jim’s heart restarted by using an AED and creating an airway. Because the shoreline was too steep, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Marine Unit had to get a boat into the Cove and take Jim to the Clackamette River boat launch a half mile away.
Jim’s wife, Jeanne, and I both arrived at the hospital at the same time. She was able to enter the hospital to see Jim. I stayed outside, anxiously waiting for a report. After a few minutes, Jeanne came out to tell me that Jim was okay. He was alert, complained of a very sore chest, and could not remember what had happened. Finally, able to take a deep breath, I felt a wave of relief and emotion.
I have gone swimming solo over a dozen times in the Clackamas Cove, but I will never swim alone again. I will always swim with a buddy, wear a tow float with a whistle, and if possible, have an escort. It is also important to be aware of your surroundings and stay close to the shoreline.
Stay safe my friends and be responsible
Tim Waud/OMS Chair