Runners taking part in the 2021 Run4Elise.jpg

Runners taking part in the 2021 Run4Elise

The throng of runners who showed up to take part in the Run4Elise event last month are no doubt familiar with the story of how the event came to be and what it means to the dynamo—Lori Cerami—behind the run. Cerami, whose 13-year-old daughter, Elise, was a student athlete who drowned during swim practice in 2016, wants no family to experience what hers faced six years ago.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around, somebody who knows how to swim could still drown, but it happens,” she said. “Your kid can swim a mile in 20 minutes—you think they’re safe. We remind people that even after someone knows how to swim, they still need someone watching the water, regardless if it’s a public pool or your own private backyard pool.”

Committing her life to positive change, keeping kids and adults safe in the water

Although swimming lessons and training can reduce the risk of drowning, children who know how to swim still need “close and constant supervision,” according to drowning prevention data listed on the CDC’s website.

Cerami has learned that even a trained swimmer can be affected by body temperature changes, muscle cramps, low blood pressure, or not enough electrolytes. The Cerami family decided to honor Elise by forming the non-profit foundation Swim4Elise to educate other families about the importance of water safety. She said she made a list of 20 things she wanted to accomplish to honor Elise.

“I’m pretty tenacious,” she said. “Slowly but surely, I have checked off one at a time.”

Southlake area youth stuffing Swim4Elise bags with swim packets used to educate youths at nearby schools

Kids stuffing Swim4Elise bags with swim packets used to educate youths at nearby schools.

Her original goals were funding college scholarships and lifeguard certification training programs when Swim4Elise first started. A soccer mom from the Grapevine-Southlake Soccer Association, where her husband David was a volunteer coach, started a YouCaring fundraiser after Elise’s death.

After several weeks, there was a sizable amount of money raised, so she asked her husband what Elise would want them to do with the donations. (Health insurance covered her hospital bills, and life insurance covered her funeral.)

“People in the community were very generous and supportive, and that’s how the non-profit started,” Cerami said. “We decided to use those funds and put it into the nonprofit.”

Honoring her daughter in a significant way

Cerami earned her lifeguard certification after her daughter’s death, which prompted her to want to give this training first to Elise’s teammates and then others in the community.

“Those girls were scared to get back in the water,” Cerami said. “We paid for them to get lifeguard certified because I know my daughter wanted them to get back in the water. She would want them to continue to swim, but she would want them to know what to do if anything ever happened again.”

Each lifeguard certification training costs about $250.

“We encourage swimmers to get lifeguard certified even if they never become a lifeguard,” Cerami said. “We want them to just have the skills to know what to do and have the confidence to respond.”

One of their major fundraisers is Run4Elise, the 5K and 1-mile fun run event in May, which doubles as a recognition ceremony for the foundation’s college scholarships and water safety awareness.

“We bring safety into the entire race—we talk about safety from the stage,” she said.

A fun, learning exercise

Similar to Touch-A-Truck events, where children and their families learn about first responders and the vehicles they drive for their jobs, Run4Elise hosts CareFlite helicopters along with fire trucks, police, and ambulances to educate the community.

Often fun runs or races charge for photos, but Run4Elise has a reason for not charging for runner photos.

“We want you to download our pictures and share something you’ve learned about water safety, something you learned about our daughter’s story,” Cerami said. “And you will help us further the message. I can only get the message to maybe 5,000 or 6,000 people. Imagine if each one of those people got it to 100 people?”

“What would that reminder do, while Texas is heating up and people are getting in the water?”

The annual Run4Elise fun run event funds classroom water safety education for over 5,000 children in the North Texas area. “We don’t have to charge one dime,” she said. “We offer the service completely free to the local daycares.”

Each child goes home with a water safety packet, sponsored by a partnership between Swim4Elise and Cook Children’s Medical Center.

“The goal is that kids are excited enough about it to go home and teach their family about water safety,” Cerami said. “I get stories back from parents [saying], ‘My 5-year-old learned about your program today, and he came home and taught the 8-year-old.’ It’s a very grassroots organization.”

Cerami believes that everyone needs to change their behavior around water and become more attentive, especially with their children.

“We don’t let our kids play with fire, but yet we let them play with water, and we’re not doing that with enough caution,” she said. “We’re not teaching them how to be respectful of that water.”

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