The backyard pool game that can kill even the strongest swimmer.

We run literally thousands of posts on Mamamia over a 12 month period and we’ve collated the most popular 20 of 2014 to count down as we bring in the new year. This post was number four…

Spending hours in the pool in the hot summer is a rite of passage for every Australian kid…my two brothers and I included. Sadly it is this simple pastime which claimed the life of my youngest brother.

It was a scene I’ll never forget. I was 16 when my mum picked me up after my shift at McDonalds. I returned home to find my 12 year-old brother Nic’s lifeless body, lying beside the pool.

Nic Fisher drowned at the age of 12.

My dad and my aunty were performing CPR on Nic while my brother, Josh, and four younger cousins watched on with a look of sheer terror on their faces. I remember standing at the end of our street for what like seemed like an eternity, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

It was just three days after Christmas.

Our family was passionate about any activity that involved water. But on that day in December, we found out how deadly our iconic Australian lifestyle could be – particularly for daring and competitive young kids and teens like us.

On that sunny summer day, Nic and our cousins were playing a game of seeing who could hold their breath the longest, with two adults supervising in the pool yard.

Carly with Noah Nicholas.

It was this simple game – familiar to every Australian kid – that took Nic’s life so swiftly and silently.

Shallow water blackout (SWB) is caused by competitive or continuous breath holding or by taking several deep breaths before diving under water. Swimmers pass out due to lack of oxygen and the delayed trigger to breathe means that water quickly fills the lungs. When this happens, death or brain damage occurs much quicker than the usual form of drowning.

This is how my little brother, a competent swimmer, waterskiier and healthy young kid, being supervised by two adults, was able to drown so quickly.


Each December we celebrate Nic’s birthday with our beautiful family and friends and his mates. We drink, we laugh, we catch up on what his friends are up to and we share stories of the adventures Nic had in his 12 short years. A few weeks later we sit around in silent pain on his anniversary reliving that awful afternoon. Being December, the sun is always beaming and the sound of kids in the pool having fun is always present.

Carly’s left arm bears her brother’s initials.

Nic left a legacy of adventure and fun that we will remember forever.

But as part of his legacy, I feel like it is my responsibility to warn other families and parents of the dangers of holding your breath underwater, especially for competitive and adventurous little souls.

Awareness of SWB needs to be spread far and wide – it needs to be on a ‘No Breath Holding’ sign at every pool, backed by a strong government campaign. It needs to be taught in every school. Parents and friends need to talk to their kids about this every summer, just as they do about any other danger.

As a family we have survived. We have overcome the darkest of days and the all-consuming heartache that follows the loss of a child, brother or sister in such a sudden and inexplicable way. We continue to swim in that pool, go waterskiing and tackle life with the adventure and joy that Nic always did.

My 11 month old son proudly shares his uncle’s name (Noah Nicholas) and is showing all those signs of being an adventurous, competitive and full-of-life little man – just like his uncle.

As soon as I can, and in any way possible, I will educate my son, his mates and anyone I can get my hands on about the dangers of SWB and these games. Because if only one mother or reader tells their kids this story and prevents a SWB death, it will be worth it.

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