Swimmer who nearly drowned: 'Maybe I went too hard'

Swimmer who nearly drowned: 'Maybe I went too hard'


by ANN SHERIDAN / NewsChannel 36 Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @SheridanWCNC


Posted on July 27, 2012 at 6:51 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 27 at 8:33 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With nearly 40 athletes at the Olympic Trials and five athletes at the Olympic Games in London, SwimMAC is considered one of the most successful swim programs in the United States.  

But for several days in mid-July, swimmers, parents and coaches faced the unthinkable.  

A competitive swimmer, loved and admired by his team, nearly drowned at the practice facility off Providence Road in south Charlotte.

The swimmer, Dima Zaytsev, had been practicing on his own.  It wasn't unusual for coaches to see Zaytsev doing extra practices.

"He's one of our hardest workers and he always has been," said Coach Ryan Marklewitz.

Marklewtiz had been training younger swimmers when he heard fellow coach Lindsay Treece call his name.  

"I then looked in the water and she's got Dima on the wall and she's supporting him," he said.

"My hands were shaking from the adrenalin," said Treece.  "I just kind of said 'OK, this is how I need to react.  This is what needs to be done,'" she said.

Marklewitz came to help.  The two coaches worked with Zaytsev, hoping to save him, while other coaches got younger swimmers out of the water, alerted parents and called 911.

"There were coaches bringing us defibrillators and bringing us gloves," said Marklewitz.

In a sport where winning is measured by seconds, this time, life or death would be measured by minutes.  And adding to the stress, the athlete they were trying to save was a friend, respected by the swimming community for his work ethic and admired for his accomplishments in the water.

"My biggest concern was to do enough to give him the best chance he could have," said Treece.

"I realized it was Dima for a second, and then instinct took over from there," said Marklewitz.

The two worked together, then Charlotte's first responders arrived and took over.  

"It was a little scary, just not knowing what the outcome was going to be, but he's a strong kid," said Marklewitz.

For several days, Zaytsev's condition was guarded.  Swimmers wrote their friend's initials on their arms, then waited and prayed for good news.  It finally came.

Zaytsev would be OK and would return to the pool.  His life was saved by quick thinking coaches and Charlotte's first responders who were determined to get him breathing.

"I owe my life to her pretty much and to Ryan as well," said Zaytsev of the two coaches who worked together until Medic arrived.

He doesn't know exactly what went wrong in the water on July 17, but he believes he might have been training too hard on his own.

"It's possible I was doing breath control," he said.

Breath control, a drill that if taken to extremes can cause any swimmer to black out, is a water exercise designed to do only under close supervision.   

"It's possible I went too far, maybe I went too hard," he said.

Because he might have been swimming laps without breathing, doctors believe Zaytsev could have been under the water for more than two minutes.

"I suffered a lot of things—cardiac arrest, apnea, acute respiratory failure," he said as he sat at the swim center with his mother, coaches and friends nearby.

"Can't wait to see you," said Zaytsev's coach, Eric Lane.  

"I can't wait to get back either," said Zaytsev.

Now back at the pool, Zaytsev is working to regain his strength, doing pullups in the club's dry land area.  And at only 17, he's redefining his outlook.

"I've been calling all my friends and making sure (they know) that I appreciate every one of them.  I feel like I got a second chance."

A second chance for him, thanks to the coaches who had to get it right on their first try.

"Honestly, we were just doing our jobs," said Marklewtiz.

"I was in a zone and did what I needed to do," said Treece.

"I'm very grateful, of course," he said.  "I could very well not have survived that day."