Teghan Theile (center) with the New Tampa YMCA lifeguards who rescued her (l.-r.): Alfred Briceno, Emma Cutkomp, Aviana Jividen and TJ Hernandez.

On a sunny day just before school let out for the summer, the New Tampa Family YMCA pool was busy. Four teenage lifeguards were on duty as people enjoyed the pool and young synchronized swimmers were training for the upcoming Junior Olympics.

Teghan Theile, a 10-year-old who has been on the synchronized swimming team at the New Tampa YMCA for three years, was participating in the practice, doing what she does most afternoons, for several hours at a time.

As Teghan and her teammates were swimming laps, something about the way her legs were moving caught lifeguard Aviana Jividen’s attention. It didn’t look quite right. As Aviana watched, Teghan blacked out and sank to the bottom of the pool.

Aviana jumped into action, and TJ Hernandez, another of the lifeguards on duty that day, helped pull Teghan out of the water.

“We do practices every month,” recalls Aviana, “so when you actually see it happen, your adrenaline kicks in and you think of all the training that you went through.”

Assisted by lifeguards Emma Cutkomp and Alfred Briceno, Aviana and TJ began lifesaving procedures as 9-1-1 was called.

“They stayed calm, worked together and did what was needed to save Teghan’s life,” says aquatics experience director Lacey Boldman. “All the monthly drills and scenario practice was put into action and they remembered all the steps necessary to make the rescue quickly and efficiently. A life was saved because of their vigilance and quick action.”

Teghan’s mom, Brenna Fender, was in the shower when she got a call that something scary had happened to her daughter. She immediately headed to the pool.

“When I arrived, Teghan wasn’t moving, but they said she was breathing,” says Brenna. “Running out to the pool and finding it silent, with onlookers frozen against the fence while a small group huddled together over a figure that I knew was my daughter, was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Over the next couple of days, Brenna pieced together what had happened.

“Teghan did several laps in a row with very few breaths,” Brenna explains. “She then attempted a 50-meter zero under, trying to swim the distance without taking a breath.”

“I thought I could make it because the wall was just a few yards away,” Teghan remembers. “The next thing I remember, I was out of the pool, lying on a towel, and I was so confused.”

Tampa Y aquatics experience executive Amanda Walker explains that what happened to Teghan is called a shallow water blackout.

“With shallow water blackouts, you don’t even realize sometimes that you need to take a breath,” explains Amanda. “Your brain genuinely plays tricks on you and you pass out.”

Thanks to the quick action of the four lifeguards, Teghan was conscious by the time paramedics arrived, and was transported to the hospital, where she stayed in the pediatric ICU for a couple of days, while doctors ran tests to ensure that there was no underlying medical cause for her blackout.

When Brenna considers that the four people who saved her daughter’s life were all just teenagers, “it was stunning to think about,” she says. “They were so attentive. It was a pool full of people, so who thinks they need to be watching the experienced swimmers? The lifeguards were so prepared and obviously took their training seriously. I absolutely credit the YMCA for that — selecting the right people for the job and training them so well.”

Brenna says that on the way to the hospital, Teghan was already asking if she had to miss school the next day. She was given the all-clear to return to her fourth grade class at Lake Magdalene Elementary just in time for the last day of school later that week.

Within just a couple of weeks, Teghan was back in the pool again.

In early July, just barely a month later, Teghan and her team travelled to California to compete in the Junior Olympics.

Brenna says there was never a doubt she would get right back in and swim again.

“She’s worked too hard,” Brenna says, “I couldn’t keep her from competing at the Junior Olympics.”

Brenna says Teghan has always loved to be in the water. “She was the kid who thought she could swim before she was two years old,” she says. “I’d tell her to jump to me and she’d jump into the water next to me.”

Based on research she’s since done, Brenna understands that it’s unlikely to happen again, as long as Teghan makes different decisions. That doesn’t make the lingering anxiety go away, though, as her daughter continues swimming. “It’s been over a month now, so it’s getting easier,” Brenna explains, “but I’ve had a knot in my stomach that’s been hard to get rid of.”

Brenna is incredibly grateful to the YMCA lifeguards. To provide just a glimpse of the appreciation she and Teghan have for them, they hosted a thank-you pizza party with homemade brownies and goodies, where Teghan had a chance to talk with the lifeguards who saved her life. “It was really good for Teghan, especially,” Brenna says, “because she wanted to see them all.”

Now that Junior Olympics is over, Teghan is getting a brief break from her synchronized swimming practices. Her mom says she loves reading Harry Potter and making her own music videos, and is excited about joining her school’s safety patrol as a fifth grader in the fall.

But, when the swim season starts again, Teghan will be right back in that place she loves the most, practicing synchronized swimming in the New Tampa YMCA pool again.

Luckily for all of us, the New Tampa Y lifeguards will be there, too.

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