Watch Me Swim has been teaching aquatic survival lessons to infants, toddlers and children for more than 19 years in Hillsborough County.

Most new parents are preoccupied with changing diapers, sleep schedules and feedings, but child experts strongly encourage all parents to enroll their new family member in infant self-rescue swim lessons. With Florida’s sunny weather and access to pools and other bodies of water, it is an unfortunate statistic that children under the age of 4 make up the majority of Florida’s child drownings. Even more unfortunate is that Hillsborough County led the state in child drownings in 2018, with 11 reported deaths, more than the previous two years combined.

No one knows this better than Riverview resident Kari Bahour, owner of Watch Me Swim. More than 19 years ago, Bahour experienced a near tragedy when she saw the almost lifeless body of her then 18-month-old son pulled from a freezing pool.

“Thankfully, my son survived the incident without complications, but way too many children aren’t so lucky,” said Bahour. “I knew then I needed to make sure nothing like this ever happens to another parent or child.”

This incident ignited a career change for Bahour, who is now a certified master swim instructor and has dedicated the last 19 years of her life to teach actual aquatic problem-solving skills to prevent drowning tragedies.

“We have a community epidemic and drowning does not discriminate,” said Bahour. “It happens to the best and most diligent of parents. Children are naturally curious and overly confident around the water. Teaching them confidence and how to jump in the water without having proper aquatic skills only puts children in more danger.”

According to Bahour, not all swim lessons are created equal and she urges parents to do their research before choosing a swim lesson for their infant or toddler.

“I often get kids who have been in other traditional-type swim programs before coming to Watch Me Swim,” said Bahour. “Many behaviors have been taught that are not conducive to actual swimming or floating and I’m having to ‘unteach’ those skills.”

Bahour teaches children to inhale before going underwater rather than exhale because exhaling will cause a child sink and give them a constant feeling of being out of breath when submerged. She teaches the straight propulsive type of kicks rather than the peddling kicks. Peddling will keep children vertical in the water and will only create resistance.

“Another important thing to watch out for are programs that teach children to jump in the water, turn and grab the edge, but don’t teach the actual rollback-to-float,” said Bahour. “What if the edge was not within reach? Or if there was no edge at all like a pond or lake?”

Survival swimming skills and self-rescue skills are an added measure of protection against drowning. Bahour explains that it is the final layer for when all other layers of protection, such as a momentary lapse in adult supervision or a barrier, do not exist; the child would have a good chance of surviving if taught how to rollback-to-float or swim/float/swim.

“My favorite part about what I actually do is seeing the transition of a timid, screaming child in the water to a skilled and confident swimmer and ‘aquatic problem-solver’ in the water,” said Bahour. “I still get moved and emotional every time despite 19 years and thousands of students later.”

Throughout her 19-year career, Bahour has had many success stories and receives messages from parents thanking her for potentially saving their child’s life.

“This is far more than a paycheck for me. It truly is my passion,” said Bahour. “It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I thank God for the ability to make that kind of a difference.”

For more information, visit www.WatchMeSwim.com or call 643-SWIM (7946).