CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – At the Lynnhaven Dive Center in Virginia Beach, the work of a swim instructor is never-ending.
“You want swimming to be like walking and talking for a toddler,” said swim instructor Sandi Womack.
They teach lifesaving skills to the youngest of young, starting as early as 6 months old.
“I wish I could get everyone,” Womack added.
On average, 350 children under 5 years old drown in backyard pools every year.
“When it happens, it is devastating to us,” Womack said.
Chad and Taja Adams would love to see every child learn to swim — and they’ve made it their mission in the wake of their own tragedy.
Three years ago, they moved into their Chesapeake home. It’s a gorgeous two-story house with an even better backyard. It was a perfect place for 8-year-old Kayla and 3-year-old Liam to grow up.
“All it takes is 20 seconds for a toddler to drown,” added Chad Adams.
“When you’re around water, time is just not on your side,” added his wife Taja Adams.
One day back in March everything changed for the Adams family.
“It was a pretty chilly day,” Chad Adams said. “It was overcast. I think it had been raining a little bit.”
Chad was home with the two children. He was helping Kayla with homework.
“She had a book report the next day and we were working on that in the kitchen,” he added.
Chad Adams then realized 3-year-old Liam wasn’t around.
BELOW: Full interview with Adams family.
“He slipped into the backyard for no more than a minute and a half,” the father said.
Chad Adams went searching for the toddler.
“He was face down,” Chad Adams recalled. “He was face down in the pool. He was floating in the pool.”
Chad Adams, who is a registered nurse, started CPR. He yelled for Kayla to run next door and get help.
“I remember telling myself in this moment there is no way this is happening; there is no way this is real,” Chad Adams said. “I will bring him back. I know I will. I know I will.”
“I was freaking out,” Taja said. “I was like what happened?”
Taja Adams was just getting home from the gym when she saw rescue trucks parked out in front.
“When I saw Liam, I just couldn’t believe it,” she added. “I was just in complete shock. I just remember panicking and screaming, and I just kept praying.”
Liam was rushed the hospital. Doctors couldn’t save his life.
“It’s horrific,” she added. “I don’t think it could possibly get any worse than that.”
“He loved everybody he came in contact with, and he had a glowing personality,” Chad Adams said. He just touched everybody’s life. He always had the biggest smile on his face. He was just so full of life.”
“Our lives have forever changed,” Taja Adams added. “To go from having a loud toddler in the house to silence is the most painful part.”
The Adams will no longer be silent. They are hoping their story can help others.
“I want fathers and mothers to understand how quickly this can happen,” Chad Adams said. “How turning your back for a minute can lead to a life-changing event.”
“I think the swim lessons is key,” Taja Adams added.
The Adams are hoping to make sure all children have access to swimming lessons. They are looking to start a nonprofit to help offset the costs.
A fence now drapes the Adams family’s pool. It is a constant reminder.
“We drive around Hampton Roads, and you see many pools and you rarely see any protective fences and you don’t really see them, and we were guilty as well before this event,” Chad Adams said.
“I don’t think the pain will every go away,” Taja Adams added. “It is something that we are always going to live with.”
Resources for swimming lessons and drowing prevention
- American Academy of Pediatrics Water Safety and Drowning Prevention
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Pool Safety
- American Red Cross Home Pool & Hot Tub Safety
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming