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Charlotte takes on ‘World’s Largest Swimming Lesson,’ one swimmer at a time

Jerry Holloway tries to convince his daughter Kaitlyn, 3, to re-enter the pool after a short break during her first swimming lesson hosted by Mecklenburg County Parks & Recreation at Double Oaks Pool on Thursday morning.
Jerry Holloway tries to convince his daughter Kaitlyn, 3, to re-enter the pool after a short break during her first swimming lesson hosted by Mecklenburg County Parks & Recreation at Double Oaks Pool on Thursday morning. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Organizers needed 36,565 participants to beat the 2014 Guinness World Record for the largest swimming lesson at this year’s World’s Largest Swimming Lesson event, held worldwide Thursday.

But at Double Oaks Pool in north Charlotte Thursday, there were only two – 3-year-old Katie Holloway and her mother, Dawn Roth. Her father, Donald Holloway, cheered her on from poolside.

WLSL is sponsored by water safety and training organizations to raise awareness about the importance of swim lessons to prevent drowning. This is the fifth year the event has been held in more than 900 aquatic facilities in multiple countries, including five Charlotte-area pools.

“I had foolishly thought at that point, if my daughter ever fell in my pool there would be splashing and screaming and noise,” said Kelly Gaines, owner of Charlotte Aquatics, about her daughter almost drowning in their backyard pool at 18 months old. “There was barely a ripple.”

Katie was surrounded by twelve lifeguards and swim instructors who were also counted in the event’s participant log, including Emma Reaney, a member of the U.S.A. National Swim Team.

For 30 minutes, Katie had their undivided attention while she practiced kicking, blowing bubbles and floating on her back, but WLSL requires each host location to have a minimum of 25 participants to qualify for the Guinness World Record – so the Double Oaks event didn’t count.

Pat Daly, aquatic recreation coordinator/supervisor with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, said Double Oaks Pool had 37-40 participants in past years.

Roth said her daughter started learning to swim two months ago at Ray’s Splash Planet, where Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation offers free lessons.

“I want her to be a part of something bigger,” she said.

Toward the end of the lesson, Roth stood in the pool trying to coax Katie to jump back in the water one last time.

But in the eyes of a 3-year-old, the vast blanket of blue enveloped by concrete was petrifying, even with an abundant number of experts on hand to catch her. Katie’s face was wet with salty tears hidden by mom’s black sunglasses.

23-year-old lifeguard Lina Valencia waded slowly to the side of the pool and started to sing, cajoling Katie closer.

And with that, Katie took her leap of faith, guided by Roth’s arms.

Fowler: 704-358-5294

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