More than 180 swimmers took to the water Saturday to participate in the 14th annual Dam Swim for Drew while hundreds more gathered on both the Irmo and Lexington sides of the Lake Murray dam to watch.
The popular two-mile, open-water challenge, hosted by the Lexington High School Swim Team, has grown somewhat in recent years, but organizers say the event has never lost sight of its purpose.
“It’s nice to know everybody out here today has thought about Drew,” said Karen Smith. “You don’t ever want your child forgotten.”
Smith is the mother of Joseph Drew Smith. The 11-year-old was killed in 1997 when a speed boat smashed into the boat Drew and his father were fishing from in a Lake Murray cove.
The boat’s driver later pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and other charges.
Randall Smith, who survived the ordeal, and his wife successfully lobbied the State House for tougher boating regulations and penalties statewide, resulting in the 1998 legislation known as “Drew’s Law.”
With more and more watercraft showing up on Lake Murray and other South Carolina waterways, officials with the Department of Natural Resources say it’s more important than ever to make sure people adhere to the law when out on the water just as they would anywhere else.
DNR Capt. Harvin Brock said South Carolina has the nation’s fifth-highest number of registered boaters.
Drew’s Law, which also provided funding for 30 additional officers, has made a “significant difference” in affecting boaters’ behaviors, Brock said.
Before Drew’s Law, around 30 people died each year on South Carolina’s waterways. In 1973 alone, there were 64 fatalities, Brock said. Since 1998, with the exception of a few years, the fatalities have dropped to the teens.
Another noticeable change is the presence of designated drivers en masse on waterways, he said.
The Smiths said they hope the event will continue to inform people of the dangers that come from mixing alcohol with driving or boating.
“One decision you make today could change someone’s life forever,” Karen Smith told the crowd of mostly young swimmers who had gathered before the swim.
Participants from other schools, such as Dutch Fork and White Knoll also turned out for the race. They were joined by athletes from as far away as Pennsylvania.
One of Lexington High’s three swim coaches, Anna Daly, was planning to make the swim with her 12-year-old son, Sam.
She said she and school leaders try to impart a sense of community service in each of their students. In addition to raising awareness of boating safety, funds raised from the event will go toward the community’s longstanding effort to build a public pool in Lexington County.
As for last minute words of advice before taking to the water, Daly said she was telling her swimmers that persistence is key.
“When the going gets tough, and you feel like the end is nowhere in sight, take it one stroke at a time and focus on the purpose of the swim,” she said.
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.