14-Year-Old Illinois Swimmer Dies In Pre-Season ‘Conditioning’ Session

by Retta Race 27

November 20th, 2018 High School, News

14-year-old swimmer Julian Urbina died after being pulled from the pool unconscious during a Thornton Fractional South High School practice in Illinois last Wednesday, November 14th.

Urbina was reportedly engaged in ‘conditioning’ exercises with the T.F. South swim team when he went underwater at the deep end of the pool and failed to surface. Another swimmer located the teen and pulled him from the pool where CPR was then initiated.

Urbina was ultimately pronounced dead at 6:30am on Friday, November 16th, with autopsy results stating his official cause of death as “anoxic encephalopathy,” or deprivation of oxygen to the brain. You can read more about this shallow water-type blackout condition here.

Although the first sanctioned swimming team practice for Illinois high school boys wasn’t until yesterday, Monday, November 19th, ‘open gym’ swim sessions were being held according to Kraig Garber, the Illinois High School Association assistant executive director responsible for boys swimming and diving.

“We don’t establish parameters and type of supervision,” Garber said of “open gyms.” “We leave that up to the member (school).” Per Garber, individual schools — not the IHSA — are responsible for establishing guidelines to keep students safe at “open gyms,” according to Garber. (NWI Times)

Superintendent Teresa Lance said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened by this news.

“Because the investigation is still ongoing, no district personnel is able to speak further to the events,” Lance said. “We are cooperating with law enforcement and have made the decision to close the pool at T.F. South until further notice. The incident is also under review by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“This event is very unfortunate and as a district, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family,” Lance said. “Again, we cannot provide any additional details regarding this event. However, if your son was a witness to the event or you have a child who desires to speak to someone, please have him or her report to their counselor’s office.” (NWI Times)

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During an “open-gym” preseason workout? I smell a big fat lawsuit. Heartbreaking for the family.


Just another example of why “captains practices” should never be allowed in ANY high school sport. I feel for his family.

IU Swammer

The arbitrary restrictions on coaching should be lifted. Make practices voluntary or something, but I don’t see how giving the team over to some 17-year-old captain is a good idea. Coaches have to have lots of training and must be certified, but for these first few weeks of “preseason,” it’s ok to just let an unqualified team member be in charge? Let the coaches coach. There are better, less deadly ways to keep seasons to a reasonable length.


I completely agree that practices should not be supervised by students.
But the idea that “coaches have to have lots of training” is laughable.

Coach Mary

In kanss both USA and HS coaches are required to have training. Not saying they r all great coaches but they have CPR and First Aid and r aware of safety concerns. We do alot of UT but my swimmers know they r forbidden to do it when they r not with me!

Nancy Harms

Agreed as well. I certainly hope there were certified lifeguards. Please push to allow coaches to be there!!!

Christy chambers

This is horrible. I pray for the family and the teammates that had to see it. Our high school team consists of mostly certified life guards and swim teachers who are aware of surroundings and team mates as are our coaches. No man left alone.


Are son went under while a PE teacher stood on the diving board. My son was 15 or so feet away from PE teacher. PE teacher blew whistle and recessed the class and left my son to die. Life guards are the only solution that works. Coaches and teachers are to busy to watch for drowning. My heart breaks for the parents no pain is greater than the loss of a child.


I’m so sorry for your loss.


I was in the pool doing a workout over the weekend when I stopped a high school-aged athlete, a non-swimmer, from doing underwater 25’s. I explained why, and he seemed to accept it. I mentioned that elite swimmers have died from this, and that it’s incredibly dangerous. I feel good about possibly preempting a senseless tragedy.


Downvotes? Really?


Yea. Don’t stop someone from doing what it takes to get better because you’re afraid of the risks of being being great.


An unsupervised, and evidently inexperienced, teenager, partaking in an inherently dangerous practice should be educated on the risks related to a dangerous practice.

“Being great” does not come from taking ill informed decisions and dangerous skills, without proper education, need, and precaution. Being great comes from making sensible and educated decisions around risk/reward and stress/stimuli.

Science and parameters, and consistency, make practices productive. Not bravado.

Brian M

Studies have determined that underwater swimming for distance provides no benefit to swimming performance. This activity almost always involves athletes holding their breath versus slowly exhaling which can rapidly create dangerous levels of CO2. Being an elite athlete doesn’t involve taking risks with your life. If you are a coach, please stop this practice. If you have an incident involving this activity you can be found criminally negligent, not to mention the civil lawsuit that would certainly follow. If you are not a coach, please don’t become one. We already have enough Neanderthals roaming around with credentials.

That really depends on what you classify as “underwater swimming for distance.” For most high-level athletes, a 25 underwater isn’t really a challenging distance. In my college program, we had guys who could routinely break 10 seconds on underwater 25s, and even good high school swimmers aren’t spending enough time underwater on 25s to consider it distance rather than a short sprint. That said, there’s a wide range of ability levels in the sport, and a 25 underwater is much more of a breath control exercise for an age grouper or a less-experienced high schooler than it is for a really good underwater kicker. The situation BaldingEagle mentions (a non-swimmer doing underwater 25s without a coach supervising) probably isn’t a… Read more »

Brian M

Let me just classify it as something I am not going to do as a coach, elite swimmer or not. When you factor the statements and position papers by USA Swimming on this type of training (i.e. no more than one repeat, be aware of risks and dangers) and that typically such activities are almost always attempted at the latter part of the workout (when VO2 max levels are high, which is another risk factor) not to mention the safety training for swim coaches curriculum I see no reason to ever attempt this, even if there was a nominal benefit to underwater training. I would imagine a criminal or civil attorney would have a field day on me considering the… Read more »


We should have stopped Tony Hawke from attempting the 900 because it was dangerous. No, he wanted to be great so he took the risks. Waking up early is detrimental to a child’s development, let’s cancel morning practice too for everyone.

Don’t worry, ElvisVB is a restaurant manager these days. I hear he can finish 3 double decker tacos and a shot of tequila on just one breath, though, so that’s something.


This is accurate. I know nothing about the sport as well.

J.E. Power

Well done in your actions and comments. Having see the consequences and having stopped the practice at the USA Swimming club level as the administrator I could not agree more. May God’s peace rest on this poor family and the young man’s friends. I can not imagine the horror and pain the swimmers present are going to have to deal with and the coaches anguish when they thought they were doing the right thing for these athletes. Their lives are forever scarred.


Very well said. Being opinionated and petty is irrelevant and distracting from the real picture here. It’s an incredibly sad and unfortunate event and family and friends of this child are forever scarred. I cannot imagine their sadness. May this unfortunate event result in heightening awareness of potential safety concerns for all.

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