The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 10, 2014

SAVING ONE LIFE AT A TIME

Mother trying to create legacy for young son

MADISON — The dangers of Lake Erie are never far from Melissa Zirkle’s thoughts.

She closes her eyes and thinks of her son, Jermaine, and vows to save every person, every child who dips their toes in the ebb and flow of Lake Erie – one person at a time.

Thirteen-year-old Jermaine Marcus Zirkle drowned in the lake in July, leaving Melissa with a fire in her heart to create a legacy for her son.

Zirkle is organizing water safety and drowning prevention classes in June, in conjunction with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, Inc. (GLSRP), working to save lives in the shadow of Jermaine’s death.

The GLSRP, which is a chapter of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), teaches water safety classes on the Great Lakes in an effort to reduce drownings and increase training, public preparedness and awareness.

Zirkle said she was amazed to learn that local schools, no matter how close to the lake, are not required to teach water safety.

“In my opinion this should be a requirement, just as fire safety is required,” she said. “I have made it my mission to reach out to as many as I can about the dangers of the water and rip currents. Drowning is preventable, and although I did everything to protect my children, I never considered drowning would take my son from me.”

Jermaine, Zirkle said, loved the beach and the water.

“Since I didn’t even know rip currents were possible in Lake Erie, I never realized how dangerous the lake could be until it was too late for my own son,” she said. “So I now want to raise awareness and educate others about drowning prevention.”

In order to keep the classes free for anyone who wants to attend, Zirkle needs sponsors and donations. Students and staff at Madison Local Schools, where Jermaine attended classes, have been very supportive, but more is needed to raise at least $1,000 per class. “We have two classes scheduled, but I couldn’t just stop there,” she said. “I am now looking at the possibility of six classes between Conneaut and Mentor. The only thing that can make this possible is to either have sponsors, accept donations, or charge all participants. I am hoping to raise enough money so that everyone can attend for free.”

“I feel like we can reach more people and prevent more lives from being lost to drowning if folks can participate in the classes free of charge,” she said.

Zirkle said the classes will be open to everyone, from children and adults, to parents and teachers.

“These classes are not just for swimmers, as they also teach participants how to recognize someone in danger of drowning,” she said.

Businesses, clubs, organizations and individuals can sponsor Zirkle’s water safety classes. To be a sponsor, call 344-8099, email malysaz@yahoo.-com, or donate to the Jermaine Zirkle Memorial Fund at any branch of US Bank.

Zirkle said she also needs businesses in high-traffic areas to host car washes in the spring. She will host a spaghetti dinner and Chinese auction in May.

Education and awareness could save a child from death and another mother from the heartache and deep grief Zirkle has suffered since Jermaine’s death.

“Neither I or Jermaine ever participated in any water safety or drowning prevention courses and we never knew of the dangers,” she said. “Sadly, he lost his life and when I heard how simply he could have got out of the rip current that pulled him in. If he had only known the steps to follow, he would have come out alive that day.”

Jermaine was a strong swimmer, Zirkle said, and though the lake was rough the day he died, it didn’t seem dangerous at the time.

“I saw him standing only waist deep, laughing and having fun, only about three minutes before I heard yells for help from other kids in the water with Jermaine,” she said. “By then it was already too late, Jermaine had already gone under, that fast. All of the kids were pulled out into a much deeper part of the lake and Jermaine panicked trying to get out of the pull of the rip current and back to shore. Once a rip current pulls you out, it doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, what matters is how much you know about the rip currents and which direction to go to get away from the pull.”

Jermaine’s story isn’t unique, as he was one of 66 people who drowned in the Great Lakes in 2013, and one of 19 people who died in Lake Erie.

“My goal is to lower those numbers for 2014, and years to come,” Zirkle said.

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