“When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” This well-known adage encourages us to make something positive out of adversity or tragedy.  Embodying this upbeat expression is local resident Nadina Riggsbee who established the Drowning Prevention Foundation after the accidental drowning of one child, and the near drowning of a second child in 1978.  Nadina, who resides here in Benicia, turned personal heartbreak into a national movement.  


Motivated by the desire that no other family should have to endure such a similar avoidable calamity, Nadina researched how the accident could have been prevented.  She came up with a three branched pool safety guideline for all pool owners as follows:


  1. Install an Isolation Safety Fence around pools and hot tubs, and a secondary barrier such as a safety pool cover that meets ASTM standards, and in-ground pool alarms or home door alarms.
  2. Take swimming lessons and make sure all pool users know how to swim as well.
  3. Learn Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). 


Nadina became known as “the fence lady” in Sacramento because she advocated that all pools have a safety fence.  In 1996 she and her supporters pushed the state of California to pass AB3305 for stricter pool regulations. Originating in Contra Costa County, this legislation was the first pool fence law in the United States, setting a precedent that is now in place all over the world. Nadina faced backlash from the pool and spa industry.  These builders opposed fencing because of the increased costs and the lessened aesthetic appeal of a fenced pool. 


Over the years as pool safety legislation passed throughout the United States, Nadina advocated to provide equal access to education for children with brain injuries.  Her child, Jay, who survived the near drowning but was left severely brain damaged, had been denied entrance to a local school, and Nadina worked tirelessly so that Jay and other students in similar circumstances could attend public schools.  Her efforts led to changes in school policies in Alameda and other counties. Most recently, Nadina, in her decades-long quest to reduce accidental drownings, received a grant from the Valero Refinery to provide free swimming lessons to underserved youth at the James Lemos Swim Center. This is a “pilot” project, and if all goes well, Valero might give more funds next year to pay for lessons in four other cities in need. 


Who knows how many drowning accidents and deaths have been averted, and how many families have been spared the accompanying grief and heartache because of Nadina Riggsbee’s efforts to improve pool safety.  Our community is fortunate to have such a homegrown advocate working on behalf of our youngest and most defenseless citizens, and we salute her.  


For more information regarding pool safety please visit the website at drowningpreventionfoundation.org. 

For information on free swimming lessons at James Lemos Swim Center or to make contributions to the foundation, please call 707.747.0191.