Healthy Collegiate Athlete Drowns; A Tragic, Cautionary Tale

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Donny Everett, photo credit: Vanderbilt University Donny Everett, photo credit: Vanderbilt University

Strong, young, healthy, athletic -- all the attributes that would seemingly protect someone from the small risks inherent in any leisure activity. And yet, sad, terrible events still take place that claim lives of such people when simple precautions and common sense are overlooked or ignored.

While many of the facts are still unknown, apparently this is what occurred Thursday evening in Coffee County, Tennessee, when a 19-year-old Vanderbilt University pitcher drowned in a lake during a fishing outing with four friends.

Donny Everett, a freshman on the Commodores staff who was once considered a potential first-round, major-league prospect, went for a swim in an apparent attempt to challenge himself. According to the county's Sheriff's Department, Everett decided to swim in Normandy Lake from a bridge's east side to its west, when he found himself in distress, reported. When this occurred his friends were aware that he was seeking assistance, but instead thought Everett was "just joking around."

"One person did enter the water and pulled Everett several feet but stated that he is not a good swimmer and was struggling to stay afloat," according to the Sheriff's report. "He stated that Everett did not seem to be struggling. The friend stated that he let go of Everett and swam back to shore still thinking Everett was 'joking.' He stated that when he looked back, Everett had gone under and did not re-surface."

A terrible tragedy, filled with miscommunication and uncertainty.

Now, was Everett safer in the water because he was a sturdy and athletic 6-foot-2, weighing 230 pounds? Did he have a better chance of surviving this mishap just because he could throw a baseball between 95 and 100 miles an hour? In both cases, of course not. But what this terrible accident sadly illustrates is that impulsivity and failing to follow commonsense safety guidelines can quickly create deadly consequences.

Given the timing of this incident at the beginning of the summer, when more Americans will find themselves in the water, it seems appropriate to review a few guidelines we've posted previously that can help keep swimmers safe. (And from what we know so far -- which, granted, isn't much -- the ones in bold might have helped Everett survive.)


  • Learn to swim and dive well enough so that you can survive in the water in an emergency.
  • Do not swim in unsupervised areas.
  • Do not swim or dive alone, and do not swim when the only other people in the water are non-swimmers. Their presence might seem reassuring, but they would be of little help in an emergency.
  • Know your limitations and do not overestimate your ability. Do not forget that your ability to swim may not be up to par under some circumstances, such as when you are tired or overheated.
  • Do not swim or dive if you have been drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is the underlying cause of many drownings and other accidents because it impairs both judgment and coordination.
  • Stay out of the water during electrical storms.
  • Do not dive into shallow or unfamiliar waters. A resulting neck injury can lead to paralysis.
  • Flotation devices can lead to overconfidence. Do not substitute an air mattress, inner tube, or other floating object for swimming ability.
  • Stay a safe distance away from diving boards, platforms, and floats.
  • Do not hyperventilate before swimming underwater. Hyperventilation can cause mental confusion and even blackout.
  • A ban on swimming after eating has no scientific basis. Stomach (or other) cramps are no more likely at that time than at any other.

Surprisingly, Everett's tragic drowning was not an isolated incident for his university and its athletes.

"Everett is the second Vanderbilt student-athlete to die in a drowning accident in just over a year," The Tennessean reported. "In May 2015, former Vanderbilt basketball player Dai-Jon Parker, 22, drowned in Indianapolis."

Despite MLB scouts thinking last year that Everett was already a top prospect, the young pitcher decided to stay in college and commit to his Vanderbilt program. But that didn't deter the Milwaukee Brewers from taking a flyer on him, drafting Everett in the 29th round.