When St. Louis Area Polo coach JD Shrewsbury called his 14U players out of the pool after a brief warm-up, he was planning on explaining a drill.
But when one boy asked where Aleks was, those plans changed: He was at the bottom of the pool. Teammate Jeremy spotted Aleks and Shrewsbury dove in immediately and got Aleks out of the pool. He found Aleks had no pulse and was unresponsive, so the coach began CPR. Aleks began breathing at one point, and JD turned him on his side — but his breathing stopped once more, so Shrewsbury resumed CPR.
Aleks’ teammates also helped in the rescue efforts. Dylan Vorbeck, a Boy Scout trained in first aid, dove in alongside Shrewsbury and helped him pull Aleks out. Others called 911 right away and ran out of the building to flag down arriving emergency personnel.
An ambulance took the boy and his mother, Aleksandra, to the hospital while anxious teammates waited to hear news about their friend.
Two days later at the team’s next practice, it was clear from the start that Coach Shrewsbury was shaken. According to parent and Master’s teammate Lance Clark, JD appeared troubled by what had happened. But an hour and a half into the two-hour practice, Aleks and his family walked onto the pool deck.
“When the kids saw him, they erupted with a loud cry of, ‘Aleks!’ and everyone ran to greet him,” Lance said. “It was a special moment to see. I don’t think anyone was happier to see Aleks than JD.” To Coach Shrewsbury, Aleks showing up at that moment also showed the young player’s resilience. “’Happy to see him again’ is an understatement,” JD said. “And it he showed he wasn’t afraid because all he wanted to do was get back in the water with his friends.”
The team spent the rest of practice celebrating Aleks’ return and full recovery with pizza and donuts while parents celebrated JD’s CPR training.
Dylan’s father John Vorbeck was impressed with JD’s ability to put his CPR training into practice. “As parents, we have very high expectations in regard to our coaches,” he said. “JD Shrewsbury exceeded all of them.”
According to USAWP ODP coach Miguel Figueras, JD completed his CPR and first-aid recertification only three weeks prior to the incident with Aleks. And his mother believes Coach Shrewsbury’s training and willingness to immediately jump into action saved her son’s life. JD said he considers it all very fortunate timing.
All coaches in the Clayton Water Polo Club (St. Louis Area Polo is the age-group division of CWPC) are certified and trained by Corey Miller, an American Red Cross instructor and coach.
“I always tell coaches that it’s the training I hope they never need, but if they do need it, they want to be prepared and not wondering what to do in the event of an emergency,” Corey explained. “Everyone should try to make the training as realistic as possible, and practice should be ongoing and regular.” Miguel said others besides just parents and teammates were impressed by JD and his training. “The staff at the hospital commended JD on the way he was trained,” Miguel said.
Vorbeck said he believes many people take for granted or don’t realize the benefits of the policies that coaches of USA Water Polo are required to follow, such as certification in CPR and other safety techniques.
“They’re putting protocols in place, and coaches are training to ensure the safety of our children,” he explained. “The coach in this instance stepped up and did everything he could’ve done and more. We tend to forget things like this can still happen, even with athletic swimmers.”
Often drownings occur without notice because the warning signs aren’t necessarily clear right away. Aleksandra said Aleks started drowning in the blink of an eye without so much as a splash, so nobody noticed at first. “Movies give us the impression of a struggle that’s easy to notice when a character is drowning, but that was not the case with Aleks,” she said.
Aleks has made a full recovery, and the team is overjoyed they didn’t lose their teammate in a situation that could have easily turned south had Coach Shrewsbury not been properly trained.
And after the club found out JD dove into the pool with his iPhone to save his player, they started a collection and raised enough money to replace his phone in a matter of days. It was a small way of saying thanks to a coach who stepped up and saved the day.
“We are grateful beyond words to JD,” Aleksandra said. “He is our family’s hero.”
This article appears in the Winter 2015 issue of SkipShot Magazine.
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