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by Greta Van Meeteren

May 28, 2010

Working for drowning prevention

Bob Pratt is the fire marshal for the City of East Lansing. He has been a paramedic for 28 years and a firefighter for 23. Pratt coordinates the department's water safety training and has been to special ops boat training and swift water rescue school. Pratt is passionate about drowning prevention and he works with several like-minded organizations. When he was four years old, a boy drowned in a neighborhood pool from shallow water blackout. Shortly thereafter his brother and some friends decided to "teach" him to swim by throwing him from a small boat into Lake Michigan. "I didn't learn to swim but I learned to hold on to the boat," says Pratt.

While he always loved the water, especially Lake Michigan, it wasn't until he was recovering from a running injury during his sophomore year at MSU that Pratt taught himself to swim and he has been swimming ever since. He became a lifeguard that summer and the longest he has been out of the water was for 30 days while doing relief work after hurricane Katrina. He has guarded at pools and beaches throughout Michigan. He teaches lifeguarding for the Red Cross and the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, and guards at special events.

Drowning prevention is Pratt's way of giving back to the sport. "We still have a HUGE drowning problem in the United States: it is the second leading cause of childhood death and is very preventable. If every swimmer learned CPR and basic lifesaving techniques we could reduce that statistic drastically," says Pratt.

Pratt's son Jake is a junior at Michigan State. He's on the triathlon team and is already faster than his dad ever was at all three disciplines. His daughter Corrine will start at MSU next fall and is an artist. His wife Cynthia ran cross-country for MSU but is now an avid swimmer.

"Doing any one activity leads to overuse injuries and boredom so I windsurf, kayak, paddleboard, surf, mountain bike and do yoga and some crossfit or TRX for strength," says Pratt.

"I compete but I'm not very fast. Because I learned later in life, I never developed a 'feel' for the water. TI is helping but as I get more efficient I'm also getting older. If I can hold these times I'll be a world record holder in the 100-105 age group," he says.

Pratt loves open water swimming. His job is pretty stressful, and exercise allows him to escape for a while. "There are several swims in Lake Michigan that are awesome. The Coastal Crawl in Harbor Springs is my favorite; they have a 1-, 2- and 3-mile option and last year added a 10K. Last year I bailed on the 2-mile swim and went windsurfing instead: I can swim anytime but perfect windsurfing conditions only happen a few times a month.”

Pratt swims three to four times a week in the winter and two to three times a week in the summer, more if there are no wind or waves. Michigan State has a 50-meter outdoor pool with a great bunch of regulars, but his schedule is chaotic and he sometimes finds himself swimming alone at 5 a.m., or at 9 p.m.

He usually puts in 3,000-3,500 meters per workout, mostly distance. His favorite sets are 60 x 50 on a minute and 1,000 meters, hard every third length. He has been adding some crossfit style workouts incorporating push-ups, squats or kettle-ball swings into the workout.

Pratt has kept a workout log since college and he finds that GTD makes it easier to track total meters, times etc. "I still keep a paper log and probably always will," he says.

His goal for 2010 is the same it is every year: to avoid serious injury and to be active enough to do all the things he loves doing. Since the weather determines so much of his leisure activities he feels he needs to stay in shape. If it's windy or there are waves he can stay out for 4-5 hours at a time because it might be several weeks before it gets good again. Pratt would like to do more open water races this year and to finally beat George Runciman.

Pratt met his wife at the MSU outdoor pool. "Actually we crossed paths about a dozen times in five or six years but she never gave me much notice. I flirted with her at cross country meets, helped push her boyfriend's car out of a snow bank in my apartment complex, and hit on her at a rehabilitation center where she worked when I brought ambulance patients in. We had several mutual friends and saw each other at picnics and sporting events. It wasn't until a mutual friend at the pool introduced us that she FINALLY succumbed us to my charm. I guess I never caught her eye till she saw me in my Speedo," jokes Pratt.


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