Directed to Organizers and swimmers re: Swim Buddy /Swim Angel programs

Has anyone organized a "swim angel" program as part of an open water swim event?

Our goal is to introduce a swim angel program into an existing open water race/swim that already has several hundred participants, established safety protocols, etc., in order to attract swimmers who would like to swim in the event but for reasons ranging from disabilities, to medical conditions, to even fear of swimming alone (or in a crowded pack) simply don't.

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. An example would be a swimmer who is epileptic, having a swim angel by their side throughout the event, in case they suffer a seizure during the swim. The angel provides immediate assistance until a nearby kayak/boat arrives.

If so, can you share any plans that you prepared? Everything from recruiting angels, to training angels, to pairing them with swimmers, to preparing swimmers and angels for the race. Best practices / lists of things that worked (and why) and did not work (and why) would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance for all input."

Gen Mackwood
SalishSea

Comments

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    Contact the organizers of Swim Across America. They use Swim Angels for their 1-mile swims.
    GenMack
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited January 2015
    Great idea - I bet Swim Across America has lots of good tips about swim angel programs!

    If there is any way to "open-source" this information, that's even better, so everyone else can benefit too.

    I know at least several Forum members volunteer for their local SAA swims. SwimFree (the nonprofit affiliate of NYC Swim) also runs a swim angel program:

    http://www.swimfree.org/certification-programs/swimmer-angels/

    A South End Rowing Club group also runs an Alcatraz swim with swim angels. I will reach out to them.

    Lots of knowledge out there... personal conversations are great, but community wisdom is even better!
    GenMackSalishSea
  • emkhowleyemkhowley Boston, MACharter Member
    I have been a swim angel with Swim Across America for about 7 years now, helping out with the 22-mile relay in Boston Harbor and the 1-mile and 1/2-mile swims at Nantaskett Beach each summer. If you've got specific questions, I might be able to answer them.

    Also, Swim Free (the preferred charity of NYC Swim) also has a pretty evolved Swim Angel program that includes a training course with CPR, lifesaving, and angel swimming techniques. It's the most detailed program I've ever seen and would be a great model if you're looking to start one of your own. More info at www.swimfree.org.
    gregocGenMackSalishSea

    Stop me if you've heard this one... A grasshopper walks into a bar... https://elainekhowley.com/

  • GenMackGenMack OttawaMember
    Thanks for the feedback. Will let you know how things turn out.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    @GenMack, I asked around about this. There apparently isn't much in the way of documented guidelines, but I did get the name & contact info of the director of the Swim Across America event in SF - let me know if you want it.

    One specific tip I heard was to give the swim angels a specific distinctive-colored cap, for easy identification by the participants.
  • Folks,

    It's been almost a year since my wife, Gen Mackwood, started this thread on my behalf. My apologies for the length of time but I have finally gotten around to writing up what actually then transpired. As a thank you to all those who posted, and for the information of those who read it and did not, and to anyone who might come across this thread in future, I am posted a rather lengthy summary as follows. (The formatting may not post very well. If anyone would like a Word version, please email me at the address shown below.)

    Jeff

    Creation, Design and Execution of a Swim Angel Program for Ottawa’s Bring on the Bay 3k Open Water Swim

    Summary: This document will serve as a record of the successful establishment of a swim angel program in conjunction with the 2015 Easter Seals Bring on the Bay (BOTB) 3k open water swim fundraising event. Ottawa’s BOTB is an established and growing open water swimming event, with the ninth iteration being held early in July of 2015. Attracting 650 registrants, it raised nearly $60k for Easter Seals, which provides programs and services to children and youth with physical disabilities across Ontario to help them achieve greater independence, accessibility and integration.

    Genesis: Just prior to the 2014 BOTB event, I was talking to a friend who indicated that she would love to be able to do an open water swim, and specifically BOTB, but could not do so safely because she is an epileptic. I offered to “angel” her if she registered; meaning that I would swim alongside her throughout the race. I spent some time talking to her about her condition and how it would manifest itself if she had a seizure during the race. Come race day we started at the very back of the pack. Helping her to achieve the goal of finishing such an event was an extremely personally-satisfying experience. After the event I wrote a note to the organizers suggesting the creation of a formal swim angel program, which would come into being in time for the 2015 event. I offered to look after it on their behalf. Independent of this, the organizers had also been approached by a woman with cerebral palsy who asked if they could provide one-on-one safety support for her, in order that she be able to safely participate. The organizers not only accepted my offer, but graciously made me a full-blown member of their organizing team, which very much helped to make the creation of the swim angel program a success.

    So just what is a swim angel? With the launch of the program as part of BTOB I set out to see what others might have accomplished. Better to not have to re-invent something if it already existed. My wife Gen, an avid and accomplished open water swimmer, posted a message on some open water forums, asking anyone who had any experience to post it. While not totally unexpected, there really wasn’t much feedback that we could use. However there were pointers to New York Swim Free’s Swim Angel program (http://www.swimfree.org/certification-programs/swimmer-angels/). From their online information the following definition was borrowed / created / tailored to the needs of BOTB: 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 chicken or the egg? Even though it was approved by the organizing team, I felt that we could not formally launch and announce the swim angel program until I knew I would have sufficient numbers of volunteer swim angels. But how many angels would we need and could we accommodate any and all requests for an angel? It was agreed that, for this first iteration, that we would accept up to twelve angeled swimmers, on a first-come first-served basis. However before we made that offer, I needed to know that I would have twelve angels available. An email message was sent to coach Duane Jones, of the Technosport Swim & Triathlon Club. Here’s what it said:

    "Duane,

    I'm hoping that you can forward this message to all Technosport members.

    After last year's Bring on the Bay open water swim, I approached the event organizers and proposed that, for the 2015 edition, they incorporate a formal swim angel program into their event. The idea is to attract swimmers who would like to swim in the event but for reasons ranging from disabilities, to medical conditions, to even fear of swimming alone (or in a crowded pack) simply don't.

    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.

    After confirming that their insurance will provide coverage for such an addition to their event, the Bring on the Bay organizers have agreed to proceed. I will coordinate the swim angel program on their behalf, and become part of the event's organizing team.

    The goal in this introductory year, is to have up to twelve (12) swim angels matched to the same number of swimmers.

    I would now like to recruit those swim angels. I'm looking for strong swimmers with open water experience, preferably with current or past lifesaving or lifeguard training, who can commit to being available the day of the race (Saturday, 2015 July 11) and on two evenings in the week before the race: for one training session with just the swim angels; and for one session, likely the day before the race, where they will be paired up with their swimmer and given a chance to swim together.

    Given that this is something brand new for the event, and for myself, this first offering will be a learning experience and I'm hoping that this year's team of swim angels can help make it a success.

    Anyone who can commit, or anyone who wants to commit but would like to discuss it with me first, should contact me either via email or by phone, as shown below. I'm hoping to get an initial list of volunteer swim angels together within the next few weeks.

    Regards.

    Jeff Mackwood"

    Within a day I had over twelve volunteers, and others would approach me over the subsequent weeks. The program was formally launched.

    Registration Process: As part of the online registration process, swimmers could request a swim angel. They were required to give a brief reason as to why they thought they needed an angel and were told that someone (me) would be following up with them prior to the race to discuss their needs in greater detail. Initially the deadline for angel requests was set two weeks prior to race date, in order to give me time to contact all of the swimmers, and to match them up with available swim angels. In the end, the deadline was extended to very close to race day as less than a dozen requests had been received. After talking to all of those making requests we were left with six swimmers in total to start with swim angels at their side.

    Training: Two training sessions were held prior to race day. The first was a week or so before the event and was for swim angels only. The second was on the evening of the day before the swim and involved both swimmers and angels. Both sessions took place at the Nepean Sailing Club, where the swim starts. I enlisted the volunteer help of Christine Wagg, local Lifesaving Society rep, to design and conduct the training sessions.

    The angels-only session covered the following topics: - swim angel program description and race logistics; - rescue approach: assessing the swimmer; talking and ladder approach; signaling; defenses and releases - the participants then practiced in water at the race’s start location

    The swimmers and angels session covered: - race logistics - introduction of swimmers to angels (the pairing of which I had done prior to the session) - water entry and placement practice

    All swim angels have a flotation device with them and, while not specifically-designed as such, all but one chose to use a MyFloat (http://getmyfloat.com/). It proved to be very well suited for this particular use at this event.

    The water entry and placement practice was a very important part of the session and it’s perhaps now that a brief outline of the event itself will make it clear why.

    Race Logistics: With close to 600 swimmers expected to start the race, for 2015 BOTB adopted a rolling start. There would be an “elite” mass start of the fastest 50 or so swimmers, followed by a rolling start for everyone else. All swimmers (and angels) were chipped. The swimmers proceeded down a long dock at the start of the race, crossed a timing mat at the end, and jumped in to start the race. The total start, for close to 600 swimmers, took approximately 11 minutes. Swimmers then swam roughly half the distance out towards the centre of the Ottawa River, made a sharp right turn around a buoy, and then headed straight downstream to the Britannia Yacht Club where they climbed a set of ladders affixed to the breakwater, where the finishing mat recorded their final time. Along the entire right hand side of the course were anchored large sailboats every 100 meters. Along the entire left hand side of the course there are dozens of kayakers and SUPs. There are two Ottawa Fire and Rescue boats, as well as other powered craft, patrolling the course. All swimmers were seeded in groups based on their entry times and, in addition to the elite wave, five swim groups were created, distinguished by different coloured caps, entering the water from fastest to slowest. The angeled swimmers comprised the final sixth group. Because of their particular needs, starting last ensured a safer, calmer, and more enjoyable beginning for those swimmers. For a variety of reasons, the race has a cut-off time of two hours, meaning that all swimmers are expected to finish within that time limit, failing which they would be removed from the water and transported to the finish area.

    Swimmers’ Needs: For the inaugural offering of the swim angel program, the event welcomed one swimmer with cerebral palsy; two blind / visually impaired swimmers; and three with anxiety / fear of open water. The practice session with angels and swimmers was very helpful for planning and rehearsing water ingress and egress, and for overcoming, or at least coping with, fear and anxiety. The two blind / visually impaired swimmers had brought their own swim guides with them. Those two guides attended both training sessions and were at that point were full-fledged swim angels. It is truly fascinating (and inspiring) to see those pairs, tethered together at the waist, swimming together. For these six swimmers, I used seven swim angels, assigning two to the swimmer with cerebral palsy, in order to safely carry her from her wheelchair down a ramp and into the water at race start, and to accompany her during the race. We knew that she would not likely be able to finish within the two hour limit. An advantage to being at the back of the pack was that she was accompanied throughout by one of the rescue boats, and kayaks and SUPs. There is no doubt that she would have finished the race eventually but after being in the water past the two hour limit, and after completing an amazing 2400m, she was transported to the finish line. All other angeled swimmers completed the full 3k.

    Program Awareness: With 2015 being the inaugural year for the BOTB Swim Angel Program, almost all of the effort was dedicated to setting up the program. For 2016, the 10th anniversary of BOTB, with the program now developed, more effort will be spent on promoting it. The goal will be to have a minimum of 12 angeled swimmers in 2016, 24 in 2017, and to be able to accommodate any and all requests for swim angels in subsequent years. In addition to everything else that it is, BOTB will be recognized as a major handicap-inclusive open water swimming event.

    For 2015 we were very fortunate to have the event, and the swim angel program, garner some very good pre and post-race radio coverage. It started with one of the visually-impaired swimmers, Shelly Ann Morris, inviting me to be interviewed by her for a segment to be included in her weekly “Welcome to My World” broadcast on local Carleton University radio station CKCU. I was able to parlay that coverage into a spot on the largest local morning radio broadcast, CBC’s Ottawa Morning. For that one, Erin Naef, our swimmer with cerebral palsy, struck a real chord with the listening audience. I had numerous people contact me afterwards who had heard it. My intention is to build on this for next year, and garner significant local, regional and national radio and TV coverage of the event, and swim angel program.

    An offer to share: In the interest of keeping this to an already significant length, I’ve left out a lot of event-specific details. If anyone has any questions, either about what is, or is not, included in this document, please feel free to contact me at the email address shown below.

    Special thanks: I won’t mention them all by name, however they know who they are: to all of the BOTB Organizing Team members; to all those swimmers who volunteered to be swim angels; to the seven swim angels and six angeled swimmers, a huge thanks for all of your support, help and participation.

    Jeff Mackwood

    Email: BOTB.Archangel@gmail.com

    Leonard_JansenDanSimonelli
  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    The term "Swim Angel" makes me cringe. I really hate it. It sets up the hero/victim archetypes: the "Swim Angel" is the hero and the person dealing with some sort of challenge is the victim. It's disempowering to be on the receiving end of that.

    Let's not romanticize this. Say you've never put up drywall before, you invite a pal over who has, and you put up drywall one afternoon while having a couple beer. Are they the "drywall angel" that's come to rescue you, the poor, hopeless, helpless person with a dry-wall disability? Drywall anxiety?

    We all need various levels of support for safety reasons. Think about a coach spotting a gymnast preparing to throw her first backflip on a balance beam, or the driving instructor/parent who taught you how to drive. For that matter, think about a boat captain and crew supporting you on a crossing. Not every boat captain or crew member is an "angel". ;-)

    Let's not make a big deal out of giving someone the support they need to accomplish a task safely.

    I'd call them spotters. Or swim buddies.

    pavlicovSpacemanspiff
  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    Also, I'm a big fan of the philosophy "only as special as necessary". I'd let the swimmer tell you what they need.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    I've called on"swum angels" for help at different times--usually if swimming in a more challenging venue than usual. And in every case, they were great! Not at all disempowering! And I didn't feel like a victim, just decided I could benefit from their help. I see it simply as learning from someone w more experience coping w conditions that are rough going for me. I've no objection to the term "angel" b/c these swimmers certainly were angels to me. But I'm ok with "swim buddy" or such also. The name for me is less important than their presence at a swim.

    JenA said: The term "Swim Angel" makes me cringe. I really hate it. It sets up the hero/victim archetypes: the "Swim Angel" is the hero and the person dealing with some sort of challenge is the victim. It's disempowering to be on the receiving end of that.

    Let's not romanticize this. Say you've never put up drywall before, you invite a pal over who has, and you put up drywall one afternoon while having a couple beer. Are they the "drywall angel" that's come to rescue you, the poor, hopeless, helpless person with a dry-wall disability? Drywall anxiety?

    We all need various levels of support for safety reasons. .... I'd call them spotters. Or swim buddies.

  • JenAJenA Charter Member
    edited December 2015

    @dpm50: I'm opposed to the title, not the role.

    There is considerable guidance relating to language used surrounding disabilities. For example: A Way with Words and Images, issued by the Canadian government, suggests "Choose words that are non-judgmental, non-emotional, and are accurate descriptions."

    "Swim angel" does not meet that standard. It's a marketing term, and it plucks at emotion, and even ego.

    It also creates barriers to participation: anyone who feels uncomfortable with being told they need an angel may choose not to swim.

    If one label, such as "swim angel", causes offence to some, and another label, such as "spotter" does not, it's hard for me to understand why anyone would advocate for the word that causes offence. Saying or thinking something along the lines of, "Well, some people aren't offended, so we don't care about you." isn't helpful or respectful.

    This is a social issue. Perhaps our resident sociologist, @KarenT can weigh in?

    ViveBenedpm50suziedods
  • Angels, archangels,* seraphim and cherubim. Naiads, nereids, and oceanids.

    Anyway, congratulations to @jeffmackwood and @GenMack for setting up a program (especially the training for the companion swimmers).

    *Coming soon online, if not to your local bookstore: _Adirondack Archangels,_ about the folks who set up the Summit Steward Program in New York State's Adirondack Range.

    dpm50
  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Thank you for this, JenA. And absolutely good with using a term that invites all to participate. Never meant to suggest that my experience/response should be normative in any way. I just hadn't been aware of the associations you mentioned here with the term "swim angel." By any name, they gave me a lot of help when I needed it, and I hope that if "swim angel" doesn't fit, they can be called something that opens doors for others to benefit from what they offer.

    Again, thank you for clarifying.

    JenA said: @dpm50: I'm opposed to the title, not the role.

    There is considerable guidance relating to language used surrounding disabilities. For example: A Way with Words and Images, issued by the Canadian government, suggests "Choose words that are non-judgmental, non-emotional, and are accurate descriptions."

    "Swim angel" does not meet that standard. It's a marketing term, and it plucks at emotion, and even ego.

    It also creates barriers to participation: anyone who feels uncomfortable with being told they need an angel may choose not to swim.

    If one label, such as "swim angel", causes offence to some, and another label, such as "spotter" does not, it's hard for me to understand why anyone would advocate for the word that causes offence. Saying or thinking something along the lines of, "Well, some people aren't offended, so we don't care about you." isn't helpful or respectful.

    This is a social issue. Perhaps our resident sociologist, @KarenT can weigh in?

    NoelFigart
  • GenMackGenMack OttawaMember
    Thanks for your feedback all.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member

    If I do it, I want to be called a "Swim Angel" - given the things that I've done in my life, it's the only way I'll ever get a halo. If people have a problem with "Swim Angel", then I vote for truth-in-advertising, so I'd be the "Swim Ugly Old Guy Who You Wonder If He's Capable of Saving Himself, Let Alone You and He's Kind of Creepy. Dear God, Why Did I ever Get Involved In a Sport With People Like This?"

    Hope that helps.

    -LBJ

    Deemapavlicovdpm50flystormslotechnotech

    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    You can be MY swim angel, Leonard! :)

    Leonard_Jansen said:

    If I do it, I want to be called a "Swim Angel" - given the things that I've done in my life, it's the only way I'll ever get a halo. If people have a problem with "Swim Angel", then I vote for truth-in-advertising, so I'd be the "Swim Ugly Old Guy Who You Wonder If He's Capable of Saving Himself, Let Alone You and He's Kind of Creepy. Dear God, Why Did I ever Get Involved In a Sport With People Like This?"

    Hope that helps.

    -LBJ

  • JenAJenA Charter Member

    You guuuuuuuuuuys. Please. :)

    Let me be more clear: when you take a group of people and elevate them above people with disabilities, that's ableism. It's an -ism, along with racism, and sexism.

    Ableism: the discrimination against people based on the physical ability of their body, especially against people with disabilities, in favour of people who are not disabled.

    Calling able-bodied people angels (angel: a spiritual being superior to humans in power and intelligence) is one such form of elevation.

    I strongly recommend language that connotes a peer relationships and equality. Swim buddies. Swim partners. Safety swimmer. You know? Peer? "One belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade, or status"?

    For example, the CNIB (which serves Canadians with vision loss) calls the volunteers who go out and help people shop or read mail "vision mates".

    dpm50
  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Sorry, @JenA -- I know Leonard, so teasing him a bit. :)

  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member

    OK, then I want to be a "Swim Creepy Old Guy" - that way everyone who might need my assistance can feel superior to me. I have broad shoulders and can bear up under the derision.

    -LBJ

    dpm50

    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

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