Two months ago, Hunter Peebles, 7, and his 4-year-old brother Chance, were terrified of the water. They didn't even like getting their heads wet.
These days, though, the boys look forward to swimming lessons and recently got to put their knowledge of water safety into action as the boat they were in on Clarks Hill Lake caught fire.
Hunter and Chance Peebles swim in the pool at White Oak Campground in Thomson on July 28 before their swimming lesson.
Photo by Jim Blaylock/Morris News Service
Both boys - who live near the Columbia County line in McDuffie County on Rousseau Creek Road with their parents, Katherine and John Peebles - eagerly checked the pool skimmers at the White Oak Campground pool recently, in Appling, before one of their swimming classes. They sat on the edge of the pool practicing freestyle arm motions and kicks anxiously awaiting permission to jump in the water.
"They love coming," their mother said. "Every morning, they ask if today is swimming lessons."
The lessons paid off when the boys and seven other people were forced into Clarks Hill Lake during the Fourth of July weekend as a family member's boat caught fire.
Mrs. Peebles said the boat began stalling and someone noticed smoke coming from the in-board motor. When the seat over the motor was opened, Mrs. Peebles said the boat passengers heard sizzling and smoke billowed out.
The boat's owner then ordered everyone out into the water.
"He told us to get on our life vests. Then everybody started jumping out," Hunter said. "Everybody jumped off. I was sitting there for a minute, but then the smoke came over me and I was like, 'OK, I'm outta here.'"
Hunter's mom said she saw the smoke from the family camp site and hurried a jet ski to her family's rescue along with neighboring boaters and her husband, who took the family's new boat.
"I got them on the jet ski and they weren't crying or anything," Hunter's mom said. "They didn't seem scared at all. ... I was scared to death that they were beside themselves."
The boys began swimming lessons on June 14 with Marcia Harden, a Red Cross certified swimming instructor. Harden said she teaches each child at their own pace during lessons, which are held four days a week.
"I am very proud of him," Harden said of Hunter, adding that he jumped off the boat without fear.
Harden said that the week before the Fourth of July weekend, the boys mentioned their family had gotten a boat. Knowing that, she said she accustomed them to Red Cross boating, water safety posters that advise swimmers to look before leaping, swim with a buddy and to wear life jackets.
"I told my husband that every penny we spent on swimming lessons was worth it," Mrs. Peebles said.
"Now they are little fish," she said.
On Thursday, Hunter and Chance earned their Red Cross Water Exploration I certification. They happily play in the pool, shoot each other with water guns and jump off the diving board.
The difference made in two months of swimming lessons is remarkable, Mrs. Peebles said.
"(Before lessons) they would wear their life jackets and they wouldn't go any deeper than that," Mrs. Peebles said making a line just above her ankle. "And if they got any deeper than that, they would scream. They always liked riding in the boat, but they didn't want to get out.
"Monday (July 29), we took them out and went to the middle of the lake and anchored the boat and they were jumping in."