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One woman’s tragedy propels statewide campaign on water safety for kids

An african-American woman in a  white blouse and gray sweater with a red scarf stands outside in the sunshine with trees in the background and holds her son, a small boy of about 2 years. Both are smiling.
Sarah Sweetman
Courtesy of Chezik Tsunoda
Chezik Tsunoda with her son Yori Tsunoda, who drowned suddenly in a friend's swimming pool. She went on to form a nonprofit called No More Under, to advocate for water safety.

Washington will mark the state’s first annual Water Safety Day this year on May 15. The legislation that created it, House Bill 1750, is also called Yori’s Law.

It was inspired by the personal tragedy of Chezik Tsunoda, whose 3-year-old son, Yori Tsunoda, drowned in a swimming pool. She said that Water Safety Day is a first step toward raising awareness and teaching simple skills to families and kids to prevent injuries and deaths.

“Drowning is silent. It's quick, and it's quiet. And I think in the movies we hear splashing, and we think we're going to hear screaming and in fact, it's quite the opposite,” she said.

Her son was playing in the pool at a friend’s house when he quietly slipped below the surface. When he was pulled from the water, he had stopped breathing and had no pulse.

A smiling boy with glasses and tousled dark hair looks straight into the camera.
Courtesy of Chezik Tsunoda.
Yori Tsunoda, who drowned very quietly in 2018 in the pool at a friend's house. A state law named in his honor created an annual Water Safety Day in Washington.

“You know the amount of time it takes me to read a text message and answer it. Someone can drown, in particular a child,” Tsunoda said. “And so it's really important that we focus on water watching. Because what ends up happening, and in particular, in my case, you think someone else is watching, right? You think someone else has an eye your children and before you know it, tragedies can happen.”

After Yori’s drowning in 2018, she founded a nonprofit called No More Under, which has helped provide free swim lessons to thousands of kids in Seattle through the Swim Seattle program. They also promote the use of life jackets and the importance of designating a water watcher.

Equity issue

According to the CDC, the leading cause of injury or death for children aged 1 to 4 is drowning. It’s also an equity issue, with a disproportionate number of those drowning victims coming from communities of color and low-income families who have limited or no access to swim lessons. In swimming pools, Black children, ages 10-14 years drown at rates more than seven times higher than white children.

The Urbanist reported that Seattle's Black residents are 2.5 times more likely to drown than white residents. These drownings are spiking with hotter summers and more people seeking relief in urban rivers and lakes.

Tsunoda wants water safety to be taught in public schools, as part of physical education courses or the way earthquake drills are integrated into classrooms. And she wants families to teach their kids about water danger the same way they teach them to look both ways when crossing the street.

One day of statewide awareness a year is great, Tsunoda said, but it’s just the beginning. She is networking with advocates in other states, working on additional legislation that goes beyond simple encouragement of awareness.

“We need Swim Tacoma. We need Swim Olympia, we want to influence Swim Indianapolis, you know?” she said. “Swimming should be accessible for everyone who needs it.”

As part of this year’s campaign, No More Under also partnered with Seattle-based educational nonprofit HiHo Kids to produce a Youtube video, called Kids Meet a Lifeguard, as well as a discussion guide for families.

May 18 marks the start of the annual National Safe Boating Week campaign, which is observed locally by officials from state parks. Among the awareness activities in Washington is ‘wear your life jacket at work day’ on May 17.

Seattle Parks and Recreation will host a State Water Safety Day event at Rainier Beach Community Center & Pool on May 18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will include activities, free state park life jackets, and free food.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to