ASHTABULA, OH (WOIO) - An Ashtabula mom has made it her life mission to keep children safe on the lake after her son died in a drowning a few years ago.
She says he was a good swimmer, but he was no match for the rip currents on Lake Erie.
Three years ago this July, Melissa Zirkle's 13-year-old son Jermaine drowned while swimming in Lake Erie. It happened in her family's own backyard.
"It was a day similar to this when he went into the water. The waves weren't real high, but it happened so quickly. Everything changed," Zirkle said.
"I was standing on the top of this hill and when I looked down I could see him. He was standing waist deep, I could see the top of his swim shorts and he was happy, he was laughing, enjoying his summer day," she said.
In just seconds, he was pulled under from the rip currents and it was too late.
After that, Melissa joined Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project to help save lives. She thinks lake safety needs to be taught in school.
"I didn't even know so many things go on in this lake, rip currents, structural currents. I thought it was just in the ocean, not small Lake Erie," Zirkle said.
Melissa's number one tip: If you're caught in a rip current, don't panic.
"Flip, float and follow. You flip onto your back, remain as calm as you possibly can, float and then follow the current. When the current ends you can swim parallel to the shore, then back to shore," Zirkle said.
She doesn't want another family to feel her pain.
"Jermaine was very happy, he was smart. I like to say he was perfect," he said.
When she thinks of her son, Melissa looks at this tattoo on her wrist.
It says "I love you mom, Jermaine" written in his handwriting. She says his note was from a Mother's Day card he gave her not long before he died. It keeps her strong.
"When I'm having a bad day I just look at it and remember Jermaine loves me," she said.
Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project tracks drownings. The non-profit group says there have been more than 445 drownings in the Great Lakes since 2010.
So far this year two people have drowned in Lake Erie.
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