Cylas’ Swim Lessons at the Healthpark Saved His Life

Cylas the swimmerImagine that you are at a lake with depths that reach up to 40 feet. The water is dark.

Now imagine that you are standing on a boat watching your family swim. You think your 6-year-old, who is wearing a life jacket, is safe. Suddenly, he jumps off the ladder of the boat and comes completely out of his life jacket. It only takes a moment for him to be dangling in this deep water without the protection of that flotation device. A thought crosses your mind — he will sink before you can get to him. Visions of your baby disappearing in the murky water play in your head.

Then, just as quickly, that precious child starts swimming. He makes it to his life jacket and holds on — quite literally — for dear life. Before you know it you’re all back on the boat, a little shaky but none the worse for wear.

A Close Call

This is what happened to Joshua and Lori Donahoo in June 2018. A day at Rough River Lake quickly transformed into a parent’s worst nightmare when their son, Cylas, was just out of arm’s reach and came out of his life jacket. Cylas had complained for a few weeks that his life jacket with straps between his legs was too tight. His weight was at the top end of the recommendation for his life jacket. Lori said, “We were reluctant to switch over to the next size up. We tested it in shallow water and it fit well. Even so, we were uneasy. Obviously, for good reason.”

Thankfully Cylas had already taken two years of swimming lessons at the Owensboro Health Healthpark. The first year his grandmother, Joy Burden, had taken him for lessons, swim instructor Katie Duncan helped acclimate Cylas to the water. However, the second year Cylas really clicked with his new instructor. Andrew St. Clair was a high school senior and Joy said he really connected with Cylas from the very beginning.

Swim Lessons Built Up His Confidence

“He made it a point to get to know Cylas and it just made him comfortable. Andrew built his confidence. He would give a high-five or really compliment him every time he did something good. I think that reinforcement made him believe he could do it. A lot of people could do swimming lessons and not provide the confidence-building that Andrew did. I was impressed.”

Joy was so impressed she credits Andrew with saving Cylas’ life and Josh agrees. “We hope that from our experience others will realize that having a properly sized life jacket doesn’t necessarily ensure your child is safe in the water.”

That moment of terror for Josh and Lori could have had a completely different outcome if not for Cylas’ quick thinking and the connection he made with Andrew. When he called Joy after the incident the first thing he said was, “I didn’t panic! I didn't panic! I swam to my life jacket!”

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This story is from the summer 2019 issue of Lift magazine. For more stories, check out some of our latest editions.