St. Joe woman starts business to keep people safe in the water
ST. JOSEPH, Mi. -- Tonia LaPlante has twenty years of experience working in aquatics programs all over the United States. She grew up near Lake Michigan, and learned to swim along its beaches, but far too often-- the same water she enjoyed when she was younger-- claims lives every Summer.
“We’re surrounded by it, and not enough of us know how to enjoy it safely," LaPlante said. “We are already at thirty-seven drownings in Lake Michigan this year. We don’t need to make it any higher.”
She started her business Fish Out of Water initially as a way to train children how to swim early on during the pandemic, when many public pools were shut down.
But after the death of a friend in the St. Joe river-- who dove in to rescue a struggling child swept away in the current created by a pair of jet skis-- she felt she needed to do more to raise awareness about water safety in and around Lake Michigan, believing that it needs to be made a priority in communities like St. Joe and Benton Harbor.
She said “It would be great to offer something to tourists, but at the same time, be able to implement in our own education systems from a very young age the importance of wearing a life jacket, the importance of ‘what does that red flag mean,’ you shouldn’t go out in to the water, are you aware of brown algae on the pier?”
LaPlante questioned if swimmers and beachgoers even know how dangerous it is to jump off the pier--
“Jumping off that, there is no guarantee that you’re going to hit a rock and bounce off," she said. "You’re gonna get sucked under, and I think that’s the misconception, that people think that’s a solid structure, but it’s not and that’s why we lose so many people.”
--Or if they know why it's important not to swim past the buoys at certain beaches.
“When you come to a place like Silver Beach that has a lifeguard and has a swimming area, that is the only area they are responsible," she said. "If something happens outside of that, that’s the Coast Guard, which means if your child floats outside of the swim area, is the lifeguard going to go after them? Probably, they’re trained to, but it’s not their responsibility.”
Another reason she started Fish Out of Water is to put together a curriculum that swimmers can learn so they can stay safe in bodies of water like Lake Michigan.
LaPlante said “There’s some very simple things that we need to get back to for water safety in our swimming curriculum. What you do need to do is elementary backstroke, which is a safety stroke. Breast-stroke. Do you know how to tread water? Do you know how to stay in the same place when you float, like a safety float? These can be done in the pool or in the lake. We can make better decisions about what we’re doing in the water, to enjoy it safely and not loose lives unnecessarily.”
Fish Out of Water can be contacted here: Fish Out of Water- Saint Joseph | Facebook