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Alumnus seeks to save lives

By Tom Robinson

Nate Tschohl is worked up.

He has a question.

"Do you know how many people around the world drown every year?"

Tschohl '06 knows the answer. And it led the former Monarch swimming captain and assistant coach to create the International Water Safety Foundation last year to fund learn-to-swim initiatives around the world. He started in Cambodia, which has one of the worst accidental drowning rates in the world.

"When you just don't know about drownings, and then you do know, you're like, 'Well, why isn't anyone doing anything about this?''' he says.

A recent World Health Organization study estimates 372,000 people drown each year. But Tschohl says the truth is probably closer to triple that figure because statistics aren't available for deaths by flooding or boating accidents or for problem areas such as Africa and Southeast Asia.

In the United States, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention says about 10 people drown each day, two of them children 14 or younger. Drowning is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the country.

"There's $2.5 billion going into malaria," he says. "But there's so little money going into global drowning, it doesn't even register."

Tschohl quit his job selling insurance last year to expand his Virginia Beach-based startup Swimnerd, which developed and markets an innovative programmable pace clock.

Tschohl's focus on drowning is a logical offshoot of his lifelong passion, says his fellow swim nerd Shaun Anderson.

Through Anderson, a former Penn State swimmer who teaches physical education at Norfolk State University and is a diversity consultant for USA Swimming, Tschohl learned of the scope of the drowning issue.

He has since led swim clinics in St. Croix and the Maldives with Anderson's foundation, Diversity in Aquatics, and he participates in an online forum for people who have lost children to drowning.

Tschohl's foundation has begun to promote two-hour "Tread-a-thon" fundraisers with swim clubs around the world. After a 50-50 split of proceeds with the clubs, Tschohl hopes to donate $250,000 a learn-to-swim project in Cambodia this year.

"Nate's always looking forward to how he can save more lives," Anderson says.

Statistics show children exposed to formal swimming lessons by age 4 reduce their risk of drowning by 88 percent. Exposure is a problem, though, Tschohl says.

A USA Swimming and University of Memphis study shows 40 percent of white children can't swim. That number jumps to 60 percent for Latinos and 70 percent for African Americans.

"Swimming should be something that's passed down from parents to children, like riding a bike," he says.

His mother, a nurse who routinely visited Haiti on mission trips, passed down the activist spirit to him. Tschohl's goal: "To make a planet that's 70 percent water 100 percent water safe."

For more information on Tschohl's foundation, go to www.facebook.com/drowningawareness

Tom Robinson is a local freelance writer and avid swimmer.

This article appeared in the spring issue of Monarch magazine. To read more, go to www.odu.edu/monarchmag

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