LINCOLN SQUARE — Chicagoans splashed, floated and paddled their way to a possible world record during Friday's World's Largest Swimming Lesson, sponsored by the Chicago Park District.
Seventy-three swimming pools across the city played host to the event, part of a global effort to spread the word about the importance of swimming safety.
At Welles Park in Lincoln Square, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., lifeguards led more than 40 participants — ranging from toddlers to grandparents — in a series of exercises aimed at getting the youngsters comfortable in the water.
"Swimming is a life skill," said Welles Park supervisor Becky Kliber. "We live in a city with a lake. It's important for kids to learn to swim so they can be safe around water."
Meryl Puckett of Edgewater brought her mom and 2½-year-old son to the lesson.
"We've been trying to work him into the water without floaties," said Puckett.
Having grown up along Lake Michigan, Puckett recognized the need to "exercise common sense and keep your eye on a toddler" around water.
"He will not be allowed to roam free until he passes a swim test," she said. "We're maybe a little excessive."
At Kennedy Park on the Southwest Side, Colleen Breakey of Morgan Park had her three sons in tow — Jack, 8, Patrick, 6, and Emmett, 5 — for the world record attempt.
"Anything to help our children feel comfortable and confident as swimmers, I'll take it," she said.
Panicking is the biggest mistake people make in the water, according to Welles Park senior lifeguard D'sean Lopez.
Another, less obvious error: "A lot of people don't know where's the deep end or shallow," he said.
The locker rooms at some pools lead to the deep end, and people jump in without checking first to see if they can touch bottom or not, Lopez said.
Welles Park runs "learn to swim" classes for all ages — from 18 months on up. Nearly 100 kids ages 6-17 compete for the park's swim team and more than 200 adults and seniors register for aquatic exercise classes, according to Kliber.
"It's never too late to learn how to swim," she said.
During the world record attempt, lifeguards had the group at Welles Park practicing their kicking technique, as well as how to get in and out of the water.
A quick lesson in pool safety had kids shouting out the answers to questions like "Why is there no diving in the shallow end?"
"If you dive on your head, you'll be going to the hospital," responded one youngster.
Lopez concluded with the most important rule of all: "How about not going potty in the pool."
The current Guinness World Record for a mass swimming lesson is 32,450 participants. According to a Park District spokesperson, Chicago is still tallying its numbers, and it will take Guinness approximately a month to certify results.
Howard Ludwig contributed to this report.
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