Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps Warns Swimmers of Deadly Activity

Atlanta resident Dr. Rhonda Milner lost her 25-year-old son, Whitner, to Shallow Water Blackout.

Whitner was an experienced swimmer who enjoyed spear fishing.  On April 17, 2011 he was practicing breath-holding in his family pool in Atlanta, hoping to increase his endurance for an upcoming spearfishing trip. He was tragically found at the bottom of the pool by his mother.  The Milner family had never heard of shallow water blackout until they lost their son to it. Shortly after his death in 2011, his mother created the organization Shallow Water Blackout Prevention to educate people and raise awareness of the dangers of SWB.  Their goal is to educate the public at large about WHAT shallow water blackout is, WHO is at risk for it, and HOW to avoid it. (For more information about the exact causes and risks, visit – www.shallowwaterblackoutprevention.org)


Whitner Milner

Whitner Milner

Shallow water blackout is an underwater “faint” due to lack of oxygen to the brain.  It is brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time with no resting.  Without the body’s cues to breathe the swimmer simply faints while under water.  There is no warning, and severe injury and death happen very quickly. SWB is most common among physically fit swimmers, competitive swimmers, and athletes who seek to hold their breath for long periods of time such a spear fisherman and free divers.  Children are at risk when they play breath-holding games or participate in competitive water sports. It is extremely hard to detect from the water’s surface.  Victims simply slip away with no warning and no noise.


Steps to prevent SWB:

– Never swim alone

– Never ignore the urge to breathe

– Never hyperventilate before swimming

– Never play breath-holding games

– Remember the term “One breath, one lap, one time, rest.”

The swimming community is becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of SWB.  Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps recently recorded a PSA with his coach Bob Bowman to warn swimmers and athletes about the dangers of shallow water blackout.

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