dscf0555The author has become aware there have sadly been instances of adult leaders perishing while attempting to complete the BSA swim test while attending summer camp (presumably due to heart attacks).

Were these a case of:

  • the adult not being informed that he would be doing a swim test at camp,
  • the adult not being an experienced or practiced swimmer,
  • the adult not being in the best physical condition,
  • the doctor who signed off on the camp physical not being informed that a strenuous activity such as a swim test might be involved,
  • the adult feeling compelled to complete the swim test with the rest of the group due to the presence of his son despite physical fitness limitations,
  • the adult not realizing or not being informed that the swim test was optional for those not wishing to participate in aquatic activities at camp,
  • the adult not realizing the extent of effort that might be required to complete the swim test, or
  • just . . . bad . . . timing?

The real answer is probably a combination of one or more of the above.

These deaths, while rare, reinforce the fact that the BSA swim test can, for some adults, be a challenging test of their fitness and skill level, possibly being the most challenging physical activity in which an adult leader participates while at summer camp. The swim test should not be a test of the physical condition of an adult leader, but for many it probably is!

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What is the takeaway from such tragedies?

Adults attending camp should be informed prior to camp that (1) they will have an opportunity to participate in a swim test upon arrival and what that involves, and (2) their participation in the swim test is optional, with the only downside being that they may not be able to participate in aquatics activities while at camp. 

Many adults are less skilled swimmers than the youth, and generally less fit than most youth.  Having been given some advance notice of the existence of the swim test, an adult may both be able to practice prior to camp, and to alert their physician that such a stressful activity will occur.

A sample swim test risk advisory for camp participants drafted by the author resides below which might usefully be provided to adults attending summer camp so that they may be placed on notice of this activity.  Remember, it is, of course, every unit’s goal to have all adults return safely from camp, and as such, all adults should be made as aware as possible of those potential risks to their well-being that exist so that they may make an informed decision as to whether they wish to assume such risks.

And, clearly, no adult should be made to participate in a potentially physically-stressful activity, such as the swim test, under the impression that it is a required activity, when it is not.

SAMPLE SWIM RISK ADVISORY FOR ADULTS                                                  ATTENDING SUMMER CAMP PROGRAMS

Participants (both youth and adults) attending a unit summer camp program will, on check-in day, have the opportunity to participate in a swim ability evaluation at a lake waterfront or swimming pool.

Successful completion of this evaluation, consisting of a 100 yard swim consistent with the requirements of the BSA  swim test, enables the participant to fully participate in waterfront and/or pool activities during the week at summer camp.

This test may be found to be very physically demanding, particularly for adults having little or no recent experience swimming, and whose physical condition may not be on par with the youth.

With the above in mind, adults attending a summer camp program should bear in mind the following:

  • Each attending adult should, prior to camp, attempt to honestly assess his or her physical ability to participate in the swim evaluation. If found lacking, spending practice time in a pool prior to camp may be beneficial.  The first time that an adult attempts to complete a 100 yard swim in, for example, ten years should not be at camp.
  • Remember that participation in the swim ability evaluation is not a required activity for adults. If you are an unskilled swimmer, have questions about your physical well-being such that you are concerned about safely participating in the swim evaluation, or have no desire to use the waterfront or pool facilities while at camp, you may opt out.  You will then receive an unmarked buddy tag, with the sole downside being that you will be unable to participate in aquatics activities while at camp.
  • If you have serious concerns about your physical well-being which raise questions regarding whether you should participate in the swim ability evaluation, you should raise such concerns with your personal physician during your pre-camp BSA  physical.
  • It is recommended that all adults inform their physician that they will have the opportunity to participate in a 100 yard swim ability evaluation upon arrival at camp, to permit the physician the opportunity to express their opinion as to whether participation in such an activity is advisable (an adult may have a pre-existing condition that the physician may find determinative on this question).
  • Lastly, if you wish to participate in the swim ability evaluation upon arrival at camp, remember that the use of freestyle or crawl stroke (found by some to be a more physically demanding stroke) is not required. You may, for example, use breaststroke or sidestroke during the evaluation, which many adults might find to be less physically demanding.  But, again, you may wish to practice those strokes prior to arrival at camp.

The above information is provided to adults intending to participate in a summer camp program with the hope of ensuring that your experience is a safe and memorable one!

Will adults survive the BSA swim test at camp? Sometimes not.