First Person

Coach Fred Lanoue taught a technique to prevent drowning
By Dan Apostolu, IM '52

In June 1960, Reader's Digest ran an article, "Nobody Needs to Drown," about a drownproofing method developed by the late Fred Lanoue when he was a professor of physical education and swimming coach at Georgia Tech.

I first encountered the term "drownproofing" as a Tech student in 1948, when I took swimming. Coach Lanoue introduced us all to drownproofing. As I recall, he had developed the course for the Navy during World War II.

The Reader's Digest article observed that Coach Lanoue developed techniques that can prevent death in the water and is intended to free a potential drowning victim from "hysteria and energy-draining tension." The article said Coach Lanoue taught 20,000 people of all ages-swimmers and non-swimmers-how to stay afloat in an emergency

Fred Lanoue was a colorful character. He was short, kind of bow-legged and not very imposing. The foundation block to his drownproofing course was teaching students to float. Ironically, he was one of the few people who couldn't float.

But he definitely knew how to teach others how to do so. It was a well designed course, and we progressed from the simplest steps to the more complex. There was one stage where even with our hands and feet tied, we were able to bob in the water.

I remember Coach asking the 25 or 30 students how many thought they could swim 50 yards underwater from a dead start, jumping, not diving, off the deep end. Only one raised his hand, and it wasn't me.

When my turn came, as I approached the wall at the shallow end, I started to rise because I thought I was out of air. Coach, who walked alongside the swimmers, screamed at me to "hug the bottom," which I did. I made the turn, swam down to the wall at the deep end, made the turn and swam another 30 feet. Only one in the class didn't make it.

I maxed the course. I always liked swimming, but I had never done anything like that. At that time, they gave a double-A as the highest grade, and I got a double-A in the course. It was just one of those things that became a challenge.

After the drownproofing class, I can say I was not afraid.

Drownproofing was a marvelous course and a great confidence builder. I used the techniques I learned there many times over the years, and still do. When Reader's Digest printed the article, I kept it for many years and taught my children and others the techniques. Coach Lanoue was a great teacher and a fine man.

©2000 Georgia Tech Alumni Association