Last week would have been a better time to write about being extra cautious when it comes to swimming in rivers.
Much better to be reminded by a nagging columnist than by the heartbreaking deaths of three young Iowa kids.
Police say 7-year-old cousins Sae Reh and Thay Mo and Reh’s 9-year-old sister, Lee Meh, were swimming with others in the Iowa River near Marshalltown on Wednesday when they were separated from their group and drowned. It took rescuers more than three hours to recover the children’s bodies.
And perhaps the saddest part of the whole incident isn’t that no one could have seen it coming — but that really, most of us could.
Every year, park rangers and public safety officials warn us about the dangers lurking in Iowa’s rivers. They remind us about unexpected and sometimes deadly currents, drop-offs and debris.
Park officials post signs, they issue statements. Sometimes they even walk along the river warning swimmers in person.
Yeah, yeah, we know, we think to ourselves. Then we jump back into the water. Sometimes that happens; it’s tragic when it does. But it will never happen to us.
But it seems every summer, it happens to somebody. It was only a year ago when Jonathan Jones, of Lisbon, drowned rescuing two young boys from the Cedar River at Pallisades-Kepler State Park — at least the 20th person to perish there in the past 50 years.
Still, dozens flock to the cool water each summer, dipping their toes in even the state’s most infamous river segments. That stretch of the Cedar and other places where several, even dozens, of people have died.
Some swimming spots are safer than others, of course, Swimmers can reduce their risk by following some simple safety rules.
Swim with a buddy, keep an eye on the kids. Wear a life jacket, don’t swim under the influence. Look for swimming holes with clear water that is free from debris.
And it’s true — the odds are if you wade into one of Iowa’s waterways, you’ll emerge wet and cool and no worse for the experience. Almost always, it turns out just fine. Except when it doesn’t, and that’s the point, really. You simply never know.
If only we could remember that from one summer to the next, without needing to
have our memories jogged by yet another death.
If only we didn’t need to have such awful, regular, reminders that playing the odds is not the same thing as playing it safe.
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