by Mary Toothman
Tom Grothouse worked in the fields of education and airlines much of his life, but his most recent years have been spent teaching children life-saving skills that prevent drowning.
He seems to have found his niche.
The Winter Haven resident is passionate about being an Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) instructor. With its Self-Rescue® program, it is nationally recognized as the safest provider of survival swimming lessons for infants and young children.
It is extremely rewarding work, Grothouse says.
“I have been blessed to have received phone calls on three different occasions from mothers who — in a combination of tears of joy — and realization of what just happened, called me to inform me that their child had just saved themselves in a water event.
“No words can explain the relief and gratitude that I had that those parents committed to the training and who also gave me the honor of being their coach and instructor,” he says.
According to its website, the program was created with more than 45 years of research and development. It has highly trained, certified instructors committed to safety and a proven history of success — so that parents can rest assured their children are receiving the best possible instruction.
Grothouse, 66, has lived on the water for 39 years. He says living on the water as well as playing in and on the water has heightened his awareness of the importance of water safety and swimming survival skills.
Grothouse, his wife Carol, and their three children, Ryan, Kristen, and Karen, originate from Crown Point, Indiana.
Grothouse has considerable athletic background, culminating in spending four years within the California Angels Organization. Leading up to that time with the Angels, he started his youth and high school athletic career in Munster, Indiana. He earned varsity letters and participated in track, cross country, basketball, and baseball.
He went on to play basketball and baseball at St. Joseph’s of Calumet College and Santa Monica College, where he joined the California Angels. After his marriage to Carol, he coached youth basketball and every level of baseball and softball.
“I became interested in ISR when I learned of the devastating statistics of infant drownings in Florida and throughout the whole United States,” he says. “I felt that my athletic experience, along with my coaching background, would give me an advantage of working with families and children.
“I have been an Nationally Certified ISR Instructor now for three years.”
The ISR program is for children 6 months to 6 years of age.
Lessons for a children ages 6 to 12 months old focus on teaching the child to roll onto their back to float, rest and breathe, and to be able to maintain this life-saving position until help arrives.
Lessons for children 1 year to 6 years old focus on teaching the swim-float-swim survival sequence. Children learn to swim with their head down; roll onto their back to float, rest, and breathe; and roll back over to resume swimming until they reach the side of the pool, where they can either crawl out or until they can be rescued.
Children are curious, capable, and have an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles like pool fences. The ISR program takes that ability and teaches them skills to potentially save themselves if they find themselves in the water alone.
Grothouse, who is one of only about 500 certified ISR instructors in the nation, says he is grateful to Helen and Nick Stone, owners of the Lake Wales Campground. They have been willing to allow him to train children at their indoor pool during the winter months. “They realize that they can have a tremendous impact on the community and families in the area by simply allowing me to train at their location,” he says. More sites are needed.
The Infant Swimming Resource’s Self-Rescue® swimming program is scheduled five days per week, Monday through Friday, for 10 minutes each day for an average of six weeks.
If doubts should ever arise about the need for the sense of urgency Grothouse pumps into his work and this cause, it would take only a look at the following statistics provided by Polk County Fire and Rescue:
- Florida leads the nation in child drownings
- In 2017, there were 51 fatal pediatric drowning in Florida
- There were 24 pediatric drownings in Polk County in 2018
- Out of the 51 fatal pediatric drownings, all were 15 years or younger. Forty-one (80 percent) were children under the age of 5.
- Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 through 4 across the nation.
Grothouse has had some sorrowful moments in this line of work. “Just this year, I had an experience of finding out that a family who wanted to be part of a group of families that I was working with to have their child trained, and for some reason was sidetracked and did not have their child participate, became a family who lost that same child to drowning.
“Life is too precious. There is something very real and tangible that you can do to protect your children and family from the devastation of an infant drowning.”
“There is no substitute for not just teaching your child to swim, but more importantly to have them trained to survive. Children who are good swimmers, and even adults who know how to swim can eventually drown in certain circumstances if they do not know how to perform survival techniques in the water.”
If he could get one point across to parents about the program, it would be that it’s not something to put off. “The residual effects of young children who learn the ISR System of Survival are enormous,” he says. “The confidence, the poise, and the sure physical example that a child or student possesses who completes the ISR Program is something that no one will ever be able to take away from them.