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Several myths hamper education on safe diving, says Ron Gilbert, JD, chairman of the Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention in Detroit. One is that everyone knows what shallow water is and won’t dive into water that is less than five feet deep. However, to most people, shallow means anything from 18 inches to four feet deep. Making sure that people understand the importance of depth when diving is a vital point of education, says Gilbert.
When people are taught to dive, they usually are around the age of seven, when a depth of three or four feet is adequate for their height. "Few, if any of them, are taught that once they become teen-agers, it is unsafe to dive into such depths of water," says Gilbert.
Many people dive into shallow water without being injured, even if they hit their head on the bottom. Yet more than 1,000 people each year sustain spinal cord injuries. Just because one person is lucky and doesn’t sustain an injury doesn’t make it safe.
People must become aware that there are complex laws of physics involved in diving, says Gilbert. "Once a person’s body leaves the deck or diving area, it is completely out of control and for an average recreational swimmer, there is nothing that can be done to change their trajectory or entry speed at that point," he explains.
Another problem with diving is that most think a clean dive with no splash or ripple is an ideal dive. Yet for the average recreational swimmer, this is not an example to follow. "Clean" dives should be left to the trained, skilled divers to help prevent striking one’s head on the bottom.
Although health care professionals tend to think that everyone knows they can suffer spinal cord injury from diving into shallow water, that is not true. Many people have hit the bottom; however, many have never suffered injury and don’t believe that they ever will. Prevention education might prompt swimmers to check the depth of the water before diving or think twice about attempting a dive that could cause them to hit their head on the bottom, says Gilbert. n
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