Co-founder and president of the Baby Otter Swim School, Mindy York, first developed her passion for educating young swimmers and parents about swim safety after a pivotal moment in her life when she experienced a near-drowning incident with her own child. Throughout the last year, York has personally worked to further education on drowning prevention techniques for families in Winter Park and around Central Florida.
“I started in the industry over 35 years ago when I found my child at the bottom of the pool at 17 months old,” York recounts. “I was one of the lucky parents who saved her. This experience had such an impact on me that I knew I wanted to make a difference.”
Shortly after the shocking incident, York joined Marlene Bloom, creator of the Baby Otter Swim School and a state and nationally certified swim-safety program, Turn-Kick-Reach. “Once a child can move their legs and crawl, they can crawl right into a pool, changing lives forever,” York said. “Nearly becoming one of those parents who could have lost their child to drowning, I knew I wanted to build awareness for this crisis and help by teaching the Turn-Kick-Reach® technique.”
Through the Turn-Kick-Reach technique, Baby Otter Swim School offers families in Winter Park a private, one-on-one training course for children and babies as young as nine –months old. The training takes place over five consecutive days, with parents joining the instructor and child in the pool beginning on day two and throughout the rest of the course.
The Baby Otter Swim School offers several levels of training, from the beginning water survival program to swim team training. Due to the focus, structure, and repetitiveness of her technique, York’s team has prioritized accommodations for children with autism and other disabilities, who have “responded quite well” to the swim safety training.
“We show parents what to do for them to reinforce the technique with practice so children and babies who crawl or fall into the pool will have learned how they can save themselves,” York said. “Since we began Baby Otter Swim School, parents have been amazed, grateful, and appreciative.”
According to York, parental supervision and pool safety measures, like putting locks and alarms on gates or doors leading to the pool, are vital to preventing children from drowning; however, the most important thing is to teach a child to swim based on survival skills. “We are on a mission to make sure what happened to me never happens to another parent,” York said. “While I am not originally from Winter Park, we are delighted to have a great presence here helping families with drowning prevention.”
The leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 is drowning, and reports show that Florida drownings have been up 70 percent since the pandemic began, according to York.
“Doctors at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children Trauma have recently said they’ve seen a 600 percent increase in critical and fatal submersions among children this past spring compared to last year,” York said. “Just like we would never put our children in a car without a car seat, in Florida, we have to think the same way about child safety since we are surrounded by water. All children, from the time they are able to crawl, should be taught the skills needed to save their own life [in the water].”
Outside of Winter Park, York and her team will teach a traveling swim school in home pools, community pools, and resorts including the Westgate and Marriott World Center in Miami. York and her team are also preparing plans to grow the program across Florida.
“We are expanding through our licensing program, allowing entrepreneurs to join us by purchasing a Baby Otter Swim School territory,” York said. “This is a great opportunity to join us in our mission of turning Florida into a zero-drowning state.”
For more information, visit the website or call 888-SWIM-KID (794-6543).