This Olympic hero had taught her kids to swim, so she was stunned to find herself diving into a pool after her sinking daughter
Former Olympic swimmer Elka Whalan and husband Thomas have six Olympics between them and a lifetime of being in the water. The last thing they expected was to almost lose their daughter to drowning.
As parents, our natural instinct when we hear about terrible things happening to children is to wonder, “How did they let this happen”. We never think it will happen to us, but all too often it does.
My name is Elka Whalan and I am married to former Olympic water polo player Thomas Whalan. We have two beautiful children, Nevada, 3 and Edison, 22 months. I’m pregnant with our third child.
Being in the water is our profession and a natural day-to-day activity for our family. We have always practiced water safety with our children, so you can imagine our surprise when our firstborn fell head first into a backyard pool and sank to the bottom like a stone, dressed in a pink tutu, ballet slippers and two messy but cute, lopsided pigtails.
Just minutes before, our precious Nevada had asked to touch the water to see if it was warm. We were at my inlaws home. They have a large fence around their pool.
We were in the house when Nevada made her request so I walked her out to the pool, unlatched the gate and walked her in. As she knelt down to feel the water I was right behind her.
I looked away for just a moment, enough time to ask my husband if our son was okay inside the house. In that 1.7 seconds, Nevada lost her balance and fell straight in.
Without a moments thought for my inappropriate swimming gear - tight jeans that would become heavy when wet, a very pregnant belly and my new suede red shoes - I jumped straight into the pool, swam right to the bottom and lifted her up. When I surfaced I screamed and Thomas and his father ran out.
Thomas grabbed her from me and tried to get her to take a breath. She vomited some water before saying, "I fell in and I just did a big burp Daddy". We all laughed that hysterical laugh that happens when intense fear is mixed in with intense relief.
I only looked away for a split second.
We're professional swimmers, we've brought home medals for our country, and we almost lost our daughter to drowning.
Nevada had lost her balance in the act of feeling the water and I had been the supposed responsible parent who was with her. You hear all the time "Never take your eyes off them, even for a second". I now know this to be true.