Near-Tragedy in Illinois Reminds Coaches of Dangers of Hypoxic Training

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 70

February 19th, 2013 Club, News, a local news station in the Chicago area, is reporting of a near-tragedy at Peoria’s Notre Dame High School that was averted by one swimmer’s quick thinking.

Read the full report here.

16-year old Alex Bousky was trying to break a breath-holding record, and after 75 yards he passed out and suffered a seizure at the bottom of the pool. After a teammate noticed his absence, 17-year old Charlie Cain jumped into the water and pulled his teammate to safety. The team and the coach then took all appropriate actions, turned him onto his side, and called an ambulance.

“I went over to make sure he was okay, I didn’t expect to find him,” said Cain to Cinenewsnow. “He was on the bottom of the pool. I brought him up and over the wall and our coach got down to pull him out. All the guys were doing stuff for him, we opened the doors up and we got him on his side. One of the guys found someone to call the ambulance.”

Cain was trained by his coach, Steve Frye, in a Red Cross lifesaving class. Even though he was never a lifeguard, he took the class in hopes of furthering his medical career, according to the article.

Cain’s heroics are certainly to be commended, but this is another scary reminder about the dangers of these sorts of underwater challenges.

The dangers posed to swimmers at practice has been highlighted by two recent incidents at two of the country’s major clubs. In one case, a teen at SwimMAC was transported to a hospital by ambulance after nearly drowning. In the other, tragedy was not averted when teenager Louis Lowenthal drowned at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. There are still no firm details (and may never be) about precisely what happened in that situation. Aside from highlighting the risks, both of these cases also highlight the importance of having as many trained lifeguards on deck as possible; both in a formal role, as well as coaches and other athletes who might be observing practices.

While USA Swimming has not issued a specific ban on the type of challenge activity described above, some organizations like the YMCA have issued bans targeting these extreme challenges.  Regardless of bans, such challenge activities continue to occur in our pools.  In order to maintain a safe training environment, coaches are expected to consider the age, distance and recovery time when undertaking any breath control training and never push or challenge their athletes to place themselves in duress or a dangerous situation.  The Safety Training for Swim Coaches course, required of all USA Swimming member coaches, addresses the issue of inappropriate hypoxic training.


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50 yards/meters seems fine. Any adolescent/adult in decent shape should be able to finish those lengths without any problems. I see two major issues:
1) We don’t know if swimmers (especially at a young age, in a high school setting) have undiagnosed medical issues. It’s especially unfortunate if the stress of hypoxic training is forces these dangers to the fore.
2) These distanced underwater races are just dumb. When each person is trying to go further than the last guy, eventually somebody is going to push themselves too far and get hurt. Restrictions need to be in place (even if just at the coach’s level) to keep people from hurting themselves.

Charlie Cain

Hey, I’m Charlie Cain. Just to clear something up, our coach did not have us doing a hypoxic set. We had free time because we were tapering and one of our guys was still going (distance guy). There was a team dinner at his house after practice, so we were waiting for him. Alex did that on his own, after our assistant coach had told him not to. When he left (our main coach was still there) Alex started to see how far he could go. Our coaches are very responsible, and our main coach handled the situation perfectly. Please delete your comment or amend it or something; I don’t want my coach’s image being ruined by a botched recount… Read more »


Your a great kid… Keeping your coaches name clean. We readers see it. Teens get overzealous… I have 3 older boys…so I have seen it firsthand. So glad your teammate is okay.
Have a wonderful day.

swim coach

any coach who trains the 18/under athlete to perform skills of this nature should be banned from usa-s for life. period.

in what race is it required the swimmer be able to travel underwater for such a period of time or not breathe?

the human body, for lack of a better comparison, is an internal combustion engine. it requires 3 things to work – fuel (food), spark (nerves to fire muscles) and OXYGEN!!!

to all those idiot coaches who ask their athletes (read: children) to perform such as task… how about you go outside and run around the parking lot, holding your breath until you pass out.

and then get out of swim coaching.


Ditto on what “Swim Coach” said.


I completely disagree. I was a sprinter in my career and I found that hypoxic training was essential to my training. At my peak I could do a 75 with no breath repeating 4 times on 1:30. Did the coach force him to not breathe? NO!!!! He was just not smart about it. If you need to breathe, breathe. Pretty simple. Banning a coach for this? If you wanted to do that, lots of coaches would be out of jobs. What a dumb knee-jerk reaction.


Just curious in what decade you swam? And how you singled out the hypoxic training as being “essential” to your training?


I haven’t coached swimming, but my question about that is how do you put the burden of a) realizing you need to breathe at the tail end of such an exercise, b) making the decision, and c) successfully getting to the surface before a medical issue such as a seizure happens, solely on the immature judgment of a child or adolescent? This boy probably didn’t have any physical warning that he was about to have a seizure and slip to the bottom of the pool, or if he did, he may not have had the time or ability to get safely to the surface. A coaching culture of “hey, guys, this isn’t smart, don’t push that” as opposed to “hey,… Read more »


Thank-you Robin. That needed to be said. … FYI, when I did some research on this, after it happened to a family member (Div. I scholarship swimmer), that usually there is a euphoria just prior to going unconscious.


I always knew when to come up because I would start to feel like I might lose control of my bowels. So the thought of how embarrassing it would be if I s*** in the pool in front of my team mates, ALWAYS overcame the desire to push my limits and get a little further…

Does sound so simple to Just Breathe when you need to, but Shallow Water Blackout does not allow you to know this…I reccommend you READ information and correct information, before making such a statement.
Holding You Breath in Water is NOT a game, nor a game of chance or luck! We are all susceptible to blacking out if you continuously, repetitively or competitively breath hold or hypoventilate….if you choose to use these kinds of activities, you should have someone spotting you 100% of the time…


I disagree. The point of hypoxic training when done correctly is to train the body to operate using less oxygen. Just like high altitude training. When an athlete trains at high altitude, theoretically they will perform better at sea level compared to those that do not train at high altitude but train at the same intensity.

The coach here did not ask the athlete to do this. Any athlete that feels they are running out of oxygen underwater should surface. This is the athletes fault for pushing past his limits. Hypoxic training is very useful and should not be a banned activity.


Nope, Sam. It is NOT like high altitude training. It does not cause the physiological adaptations that altitude training does.

Btw, look at the references that RyanM and @SWB_Australia listed. The point is that “shallow water blackout” can happen because the swimmer does not know exactly where that limit is. It can happen to ANYONE, and is actually more likely to happen to elite swimmers who are especially good at pushing the threshold (it’s what they’ve been trained to do their whole careers!). There can actually be a euphoria just before blacking out.

(“This is the athletes fault for pushing past his limits.” = dumb statement.)

Charlie Cain

You two can argue about this as long as you want, but I just want to point out that our coach told him not to do it. We had some free time at the end of practice while our distance guy finished up (we were tapering). He did it on his own without our coach knowing. Before you comment about our coach not paying attention, please look at a pool full of people swimming and tell me if you can find the person who isn’t turning to the side to breathe (he was not swimming underwater, he was doing normal freestyle). I understand your concern, but it’s not something you notice when you aren’t looking for it.


(Sorry!) Charlie – I certainly did not mean to imply that this incident was your coach’s fault in any way, shape or form (!!!), when I said it is not the swimmer’s fault. I understand that. (Thanks for sticking up for your coach!) Somehow an article about this incident got everybody on both sides going about hypoxic and breath holding training in general… And regardless of where you stand on this issue, there just needs to be a whole lot more accurate information out there for ALL involved – coaches (all levels), swimmers, parents, because it can potentially be dangerous. It just gets me goin, when claims are made that holding your breath while swimming is somehow like training at… Read more »


Shallow water blackouts are very dangerous. It can and does happen to anyone.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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