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Bruckner Chase, keeping the world afloat

Bruckner Chase (center) trains a mobile water rescue unit on American Samoa in May 2012. [photo: Bruckner Chase]

Staying afloat in a pool is very different than staying safe in the ocean, Bruckner Chase said during an ocean awareness program this past weekend near his hometown of Ocean City, MD . "It gives you a false sense of confidence."

About 60 athletes spent Sunday morning swimming between orange buoys about 100 yards off the beach in Longport.

However, a large part of Chase's work is being done in American Samoa, where he is using a Community Services Block Grant (through the American Samoa Department of Commerce) to help teach swimming on the island chain, where very few of the native people know how to swim and where 32 percent of the population is under age 18.

Chase's new program addresses three problems:

  • People don't know how to swim.
  • People don't know how to relax and stay afloat in moving water.
  • People don't know how to watch the water for dangerous conditions and situations.

Public safety efforts in New Jersey focus largely on identifying and avoiding rip currents. But Chase said that focus addresses only one of the three primary issues. He believes people should know how to swim before they enter an ocean filled with moving water — on any day at any location.

The "Toa O Le Tai" (Warriors of the Ocean) program is going strong this summer on American Samoa.

Chase has visited the island for various one-month stints to set up the training program for youth ages 12 to 21. He visited most recently in May — along with his wife, Michelle, and Ocean City C-Cerpants swim coach Graham Parker — to train the paid Samoan instructors who will sustain the program. They also taught a mobile fire department rescue unit.

Four instructors are now leading open water workouts and lifeguard skills training sessions three days a week. The program aims to train the next generation of Samoans in swimming and ocean awareness skills to help reverse a cultural fear of swimming in deep water.

One of Chase's biggest success stories is "Tank," an instructor with the same first and last names, Alesana Alesana.



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