JACK MacMillan was a strong swimmer, and during January he spent time at the Ulladulla Leisure Centre and Mollymook Beach showing off his prowess to proud grandparents Michael and Linda Riley.
It was one of regular school holiday visits to spend time with his grandparents living at Mollymook Beach, and as always in focused on spending time in the water.
But just days later Jack was dead, drowning in less than a metre of water in his pool at home in Cordeaux Heights.
At first the 12-year-old’s death mystified doctors as well as his grieving family, as there were no knocks on his head, no signs of injury or apparent reason why the gifted young sportsman would drown in water so shallow he could easily have stood up.
But it soon became apparent 12-year-old Jack died doing what countless young men had done before – challenging himself to stay underwater and hold his breath for as long as possible.
For Jack it proved fatal, as repeated stints underwater resulted in carbon dioxide building up in his system.
He passed out while underwater, and as he took and unconscious breath water filled his lungs, robbing him of the oxygen he so desperately needed.
Mr Riley said Jack’s death on January 29, just two days before he was due to start high school, was far from an isolated case.
“The police, the coroner, are saying there are quite a few cases,” said Mr Riley of Mollymook.
“It all seems a silly loss for no reason.”
He said it particularly seemed to hit people who were fit and good and sport, who were more inclined to push themselves just a little too far.
Mr Riley said he had done the same sort of thing during his life, pushing himself to stay underwater just a little bit longer, but was working with other family members to raise awareness of the dangers of underwater blackouts.
“The water is great, and everyone should be enjoying water sports,” Mr Riley said.
“Swimming underwater is okay, as long as you have a rest in between.”
Mr Riley is also speaking to all his friends, telling them to warn their grandchildren, but added the problem had also claimed the lives of people into their 30s and 40s.