Thirteen children splashed into the open water off Harbor Island Saturday, Aug. 30, and began swimming in the direction of Seapath Yacht Club. Several parents on paddleboards and in kayaks kept pace with the young swimmers.
Swim instructor Allie DiBlasi stayed toward the back of the pack atop her paddleboard, shouting encouragement and advice. The one-quarter-mile open water swim through the calm waters of Motts Channel was the culmination of a summer of swimming lessons for the kids.
DiBlasi teaches children to swim through her program Learn2Swim, and at the end of each summer she selects the stronger swimmers to complete the open water swim. She said it is vitally important for children who grow up at the beach to be comfortable in open water.
“These kids are going to grow up and if they’re surfing and their leash breaks they have to be able to swim 300 yards to go get their board,” DiBlasi said. “It’s about learning how to be good watermen and women.”
Stacie McIntyre’s daughters, Neale and McClaine McIntyre, were among the swimmers. McIntyre said she wanted them to be comfortable in open water for safety reasons.
“Say if you’re on a boat, and the kid falls in, it’s different than being in a pool where they can put their feet down,” she said. “If they’re used to being in murky water like this and something like that does happen they would know not to panic … and be able to compose themselves and get to safety.”
DiBlasi said she focuses on teaching children how to handle themselves in various dangerous situations they might encounter in open water. Her lessons include escaping rip currents, releasing cramped muscles while swimming and floating in deep water to rest.
Although DiBlasi required one support craft for every two swimmers, she strongly encouraged the children to complete the swim on their own power.
As the children swam back toward Harbor Island, DiBlasi paddled nearby, cheering them on.
“Finish what you start, you’re almost there!” she repeated again and again as they neared the shore.
As soon as the last swimmers made it back to the grassy shore of Harbor Island, DiBlasi began dolling out high-fives, hugs and lollipops, congratulating the kids on completing the swim.
“It’s not about being the fastest swimmers,” she said. “Be a strong swimmer, don’t give up, finish what you start and respect the water.”