As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently visited in Tokyo with the Japan Triathlon Union about the issue of athlete safety. I had the chance to speak (albeit with translation!) with the race directors from many of Japan’s major triathlon races.
Dr. Masakazu Kawai, from the Yamagata prefecture, had a novel idea about swim safety to share with the group.
But first, to set the stage….
We know that being able to rescue a swimmer in distress in one of the most important aspects of an effective safety plan for a triathlon or stand-alone open water swim. Fortunately, in most cases, the on-water lifesaving team is able to spot swimmers in distress who might be struggling to swim, or wave, or even simply yell that they need help.
For the lifeless swimmer–the victim of drowning, near drowning, or cardiac arrest–identification of the victim can be much more challenging. And yet identification of the victim, prompt rescue from the water, and provision of CPR and use of the AED, if needed, is the chain of action that must be accomplished in just a very few minutes in order to avoid a fatality. This chain all begins with identifying the victim.
In a crowd of swimmers, oftentimes all wearing black wetsuits, it can be hard to spot the single athlete who has gone lifeless and who is floating, but no longer swimming. From afar, it can be difficult to tell whose arms are whose and it can be difficult to tell if a head is rotating to take a breath.
This is where Dr. Kawai’s idea might be helpful. He suggests the use of a small, inflated, brightly-colored balloon that would be attached to each swimmer’s swim cap. As the athlete is swimming, the balloon would bob left and right, with each turn of the head. If an athlete goes lifeless, the balloon would simply sit still on the top of the water. In a group of swimmers, then, there would be a very visible clue to a single lifeless swimmer–the single balloon that was no longer bobbing. This might be visible even from a considerable distance and allow early, perhaps immediate, recognition of the lifeless swimmer.
Watch a short video clip that shows the idea and let me know what you think. I’ll pass along any feedback to Dr. Kawai. He’s also looking for event organizers to trial his idea. We need simple, creative ideas like this.