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  • Writer's pictureNadine Bennett

Bring on the Bay, Ottawa ON 2015 - swim angel, part 1

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

One of the items on my bucket list is to become a “swim angel” for open water swims, so when the opportunity arose a few weeks ago, I jumped on board. This is the first year that Bring on the Bay, a local 3km race down the Ottawa River, will offer the program. In their words:

A swim angel is someone who swims alongside a swimmer to provide an extra measure of confidence and safety needed for them to be able to participate. These would be swimmers who, for whatever reason, are physically able to complete the race but could (or would) not do it (safely) without having an angel present. If required during the race, the angel provides reassurance and encouragement to their swimmer in order to help them to avoid panic and to be able to finish the race. If the swimmer needs to be pulled from the race, they will provide immediate assistance until a nearby kayak/boat arrives.”

The purpose of the program is to increase accessibility to the event. I’m being paired with a friend, actually, which is nice. Diane was considering skipping the swim this year due to recent foot surgery, resulting in minimal pool time to prepare and a concern that she might not be able to finish the entire distance safely. She was encouraged to sign up for the program, with an angel at her side, my role will be to watch for signs of fatigue, need of encouragement, and possible assistance should she decide to exit the water. It’s entirely possible she’ll sail through the swim without any issue, as we hope for all swimmers that day, but swim angels are trained for worst-case scenarios so that they’re prepared for whatever happens in the water.

The training is organized in 2 parts: (1) dryland and in-water safety and rescue training led by a lifeguard, and (2) dryland and in-water session with the swimmer, to familiarize ourselves with their needs, which side they want us to swim on, demonstration of the rescue float, and so forth. Last night, we did the angel safety and rescue training, where I learned how to handle a panicked swimmer and avoid the kind of physical contact that can result in being pulled under and possibly drowned. It felt so good to jump in the water, I loved learning something new in familiar territory.

Our Swim Angel program Captain, Jeff, intends to document learnings from this year, so that he can improve upon the program in years to come, as well as share with others who want to implement a similar program. If you’re interested in learning more, contact me and I’ll put you in touch, or simply email the race organizers.

Friday evening is our swimmer session, where we’ll meet up and talk through needs and expectations. Saturday morning is the race itself. So excited!!

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