IF IN SOME WAY Leanne White can help save one life, then she knows she is doing her job right.
It never used to be like this when Leanne started swim teaching more than 40 years ago - survival skills was for those who chose surf clubs above the industry's bread-and-butter four strokes.
Leanne has since played a key role in developing industry-standard programs and fostering swim teachers across the state to ensure people of all ages have the skills and awareness to be safe around water. Her passion and dedication was recognised with Victorian AUSTSWIM top honours for outstanding contribution in the aquatic industry.
Humbled, Leanne said she was driven by wanting people to feel confident in enjoying time in the water.
"Teaching a beginner is so important. If you don't get it right, then no swimmer is going to understand the risks," Leanne said.
We know even competent swimmers, given the wrong situation, can drown. We can help minimise risk by taking away the initial shock in learning how the body behaves in water.
There were 249 drownings in Australia last year and 551 near-drowning incidents, which include hospitalisation and permanent injury. These are stark figures Leanne and her fellow swim teachers want to change.
Statistical records, and understanding what they mean, have greatly improved through the years but still far too high for Leanne. There is a poster near the BALC aquatic entrance with 249 Ballarat community members crammed in the pool to highlight this point. Leanne said the image was too confronting for some, but this impact was why she said it was important.
Most people do the basic water survival skills without too much thought, Leanne said, thanks to early swim lessons and water exposure. Some need to be reiterated as people age.
In her education role at Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre, Leanne works with all ages and abilities. Infant and toddler lessons are booming but Leanne said older people also tended to gravitate back to the water for low-impact, supervised work-outs.
The challenge now is in reaching school children, unlike past generations which had swim lessons and pool time in the curriculum.
"Group fitness teachers can run a class in a school gym but we can't because we need water," Leanne said. "As an industry, if schools can't get to the pool then we really have to look at how we can get to schools and educate. Technology has helped along the way and sometimes makes it easier.
"...There have certainly been some changes along the way. Some changes you might not agree with, but it's important to embrace chance and see where they're coming from or you become quite staid - that goes for any industry."
A career highlight for Leanne, a moment when she knew she was doing something right, was in returning to BALC and meeting one of her new peers. Leanne's son, who had followed her footsteps as a swim teacher, had inspired one of his pupils to grow up to teach swimming and survival as well.
"While we'll always still teach strokes, having aquatic safety and what it means is so important," Leanne said.
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