7-year-old swimmer has one goal in mind: Raise awareness of water safety

Drowning Prevention Program- Michael Shabkie


What began as the parents’ desire to keep their child safe from drowning has ended up turning their son, a second -rader at Canyon Elementary School, into an international celebrity.

Glendale leaders joined together at Cactus High School swimming pool lst week to recognize 7-year-old Braxton Bilbrey’s accomplishment of becoming the youngest person ever to complete the 1.4 mile swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco.

On May 22, Braxton entered the 57-degree water and completed the swim in 47 minutes.

“It is really ironic being here at Cactus for this ceremony,” his mom, Stacey, said, “because this is where he got started. As a baby we brought him here for a two-week parent-tot swimming class to get him used to water.”

For his third birthday, Braxton’s grandmother paid for swimming lessons and he ended up liking it so much he began competing with the Neptune Nation swim team.

Braxton got the idea to do the swim from Alcatraz after he read a story about a 9-year-old boy who had made the crossing.

Deputy Fire Chief Elio Pompa said they were honoring Braxton’s “can-do spirit.” “He set a goal and he followed through with his dream,” Pompa said. “And the importance of his swim was to raise awareness of drowning. Each and every day we work to combat this epidemic.”

Following his remarks, Mayor Elaine Scruggs read a proclamation of recognition for Braxton.

“Five months ago he decided he would swim the San Francisco Bay to raise money and awareness for drowning education and next Braxton hopes to swim the circumference of Alcatraz, swim the English Channel and also has his mind set on the Olympic Games,” the mayor said in her proclamation. “On behalf of the City Council, I do hereby express appreciation for the significant accomplishment achieved by Braxton and also our gratitude for the pride and recognition he has brought to himself and the community of Glendale.”

In Braxton’s honor, Southwest Ambulance made a $5,000 donation to the City of Glendale Parks and Recreation Department for free swim lessons for Glendale youth.

“Braxton managed to do what no adult convict ever could, get off the place in 47 minutes,” Southwest Ambulance Vice President Mike Shabkie said. “Four years ago, we had two pediatric drownings in one day; we were torn up. So, we sat down with the Glendale Fire Department and decided something had to be done.

It was a daunting challenge, but we took it on. At the four year mark, 50,000 children have taken advantage of free swim lessons courtesy of Southwest Ambulance.”

In addition, the fire department has reached more than 100,000 homes with its water safety campaign, which includes CPR classes and water safety walks, distributing door hangers about water safety.

Our next water walk is June 29 and we are proud to welcome Braxton to that walk,” Pompa said.

Braxton’s coach, Joe Zemaitis, who swam alongside him during the crossing, said what people don’t see is the hours of practice and hard work the young swimmer has done.

“I’ve spent a lifetime swimming and kids like Braxton don’t come along that often,” Zemaitis said.

Even with all of the accolades from local officials and calls from national television shows requesting his appearance, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Good Morning America” and “Late Night With David Letterman,” Braxton seems to be taking it in stride.

“He is handling it very well, he is doing a great job,” Stacey said as her son stood surrounded by television cameras and microphones.

Any resident of Glendale can learn CPR from the Glendale Fire Department free of charge by calling (623) 930-3474.


Michael Shabkie

http://www.engage911.netMichael Shabkie