In 1981, Bruce Wigo was almost hit by a boat while swimming across Lake Zurich in Switzerland.
"I was advised to get a red swimming cap," said Wigo, president and CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale. "It didn't help."
A swimmer uses SaferSwimmger, created by Bruce Wigo, president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Wigo's near miss inspired him to develop SaferSwimmer, a bright orange inflatable bag that attaches around the waist and floats behind a swimmer in the water.
What sets SaferSwimmer apart from other aquatic safety products, Wigo said, is that it not only increases swimmers' visibility, but it serves as a flotation aid and waterproof storage device.
"99.9 percent of the time, you might not need this product," he said. "But the 0.1 percent you do, this product can save lives. That's the gist of what we believe."
More than 40,000 SaferSwimmer units have been sold worldwide, Wigo said. It is available for purchase at the International Swimming Hall of Fame or at online swim outlets.
A medium-sized SaferSwimmer, for swimmers under 190 pounds, costs $39.95. A large, for swimmers over 190 pounds, is $44.95.
One of those was Thaddeus Gamory, a triathlon coach who lives in Boca Raton.
"It's inexpensive, and it's easy to use," Gamory said. "As a coach, it makes me feel better about the safety of the people I train."
Wigo said SaferSwimmer does not create drag for the swimmer. "You absolutely don't feel it," he said.
Sheila Taormina, who won a gold medal in swimming in the 1996 Olympic Games, said SaferSwimmer's primary advantage lies in the increased visibility it lends to swimmers.
"I just think anyone who trains in the open water is increasing their risk so greatly if they don't use these," Taormina said.
Wigo said SaferSwimmer has seen the largest surge in sales among the triathlon community.
"More people are interested in the triathlon nowadays, which means there's more people taking to the open water who don't have a good background in swimming," he said.
Triathlons took off in popularity around 2000, when it became an Olympic sport, Gamory said.
"One draw is that you don't have to be any athlete in any one sport," he said. "It attracts the average person to train a little bit each day and build to become a triathlete."
Florida in particular has become a "powerhouse" for producing successful triathletes, according to Hector Torres, chair of the Florida region of USA Triathlon, the sport's national governing body.
"We have the opportunity to train year-round, which many regions don't," he said.
Wigo said he hopes SaferSwimmer will encourage more people to become swimmers.
"It's the most beneficial activity for you," he said. "But many people are afraid of the open water. By having this float, we're hoping we can get more people into swimming."
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