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Pool jump proves angler can float in waders

February 6, 2017 GMT

In his 85-years, Dick Hatfield has done some unusual experiments to get his students’ attention.

On Tuesday he added to that list.

“You can do it!” shouted 8-year-old Sariah Morrison in encouragement. “He’s going to make history!”

Over the top of his red plaid shirt and jeans Hatfield pulled on an 8-pound pair of rubberized fishing chest waders and, after taking out his hearing aids and removing his glasses, jumped into the Rocky Mountain College swimming pool’s deep end. His demonstration was meant to prove a point to 12 students of the Billings Educational Academy.

“I’m trying to dispute a myth,” he said prior to his splash down.

Floating in waders

The myth Hatfield referred to is that an angler who falls into the water while fishing will drown if he or she is wearing waders. To emphasize his point he jumped into the pool one more time.

It should be noted there was a lifeguard on duty, and the Gazette is not suggesting that this experiment be repeated either in a pool, lake or river by anyone else.

On the back of a recycled piece of paper Hatfield had a neatly penned breakdown of an old survey conducted of 100 anglers and outdoors folks that showed a majority — 82 percent — figured a person fully clothed and wearing chest waders would be “in deep trouble” if they accidentally fell into water 8 to 10 feet deep.

“Try to keep your head above water,” Hatfield said as he floated in the pool.

Despite a soaked head and clothes, Hatfield was able to stroke over to the side of the pool and lift the additional 15 pounds of water now sloshing around in the bottom of his waders to climb out of the pool to the cheers of the students.

“He has the neatest things he teaches the kids,” said Margo Haak, the academy’s director. “He makes them think.”

“I’ve known him for years,” said Mariah Willis, an 18-year-old student at the academy. “He knows a lot of cool tricks.”

‘Cool dude’

Hatfield, a longtime Laurel resident, is typically shy of the media’s spotlight, but he’s always been a font of advice on everything from what’s the best color for someone stranded in the wilderness to wave so a passing plane can see them — blue, not orange — to how to survive a cold night out.

In the past he’s given tips on attracting buck deer to your hunting stand using doe urine, as well as meditation methods and positions to help relieve pain. For 16 years, since the academy opened in 2001, he’s been sharing some of his knowledge with the students on a monthly basis.

“He’s just a real cool dude,” Willis said. “And I’m very happy to know him.”

Haak said the youngsters in her charge, ranging in age from 5 to 18, are learning one very important lesson, above all the others, from Hatfield’s monthly visits.

“He never stops learning,” she said. “He’s the role model you want your kids to emulate.”

Don’t panic

“Treading water and using slow swimming motions should enable someone to swim to safety,” knowledge that Hatfield hopes will ease someone’s fear and panic should they find themselves drifting downriver. He advises that anglers wearing chest waders use a belt to cinch the material tight and lesson the amount of water that enters. Or, he noted with a smile, having a pot belly can serve the same purpose.

Hatfield admitted that jumping into a pool of still water can’t compare to an angler’s unexpected dip in a cold, rushing river where there’s current and obstacles like overhanging logs, branches and boulders. But he said the basic premise is the same. He also noted that the current can be beneficial in helping to propel a floating angler to shore.

“You’ve got to go with the flow, face downstream and watch out for obstacles,” he said.

It’s a statement that seems to say as much about life — and Hatfield’s life in particular — as it does about a floating angler.

“If we can save a life someday, then so be it,” he said.