Midstate mom turns grief over tragic drowning loss into saving thousands of children

(Fox 17 News)

We lose about a thousand children every year to drowning in the U.S.

It’s a statistic a Williamson County mom sadly knows all too well as she shares the story of Ryan Pyles and how his spirit lives on in thousands of other middle Tennessee children.

At the other end of a pool in Williamson County, a little magic, a little peace of mind and a little healing is happening. July 4, 1999 is the day Kennette Pyle's son went under -- little Ryan was just 3 and a half years old. His mom says he was crazy and very brave.

He’d been taking swim lessons already when his family visited a lake they’d been to several times before. The adventurous preschooler sneaked into the water without his life jacket.

Kennette Pyles explains how quickly it happened, “he was around a bunch of people when he drowned and we didn't know he was missing and by the time we found him.“

It was too late.

This mom, so crushed, so broken, decided to learn pediatric drowning prevention. It's a technique she's now taught to thousands of midstate children over the last 15 years - all in Ryan's memory.

In the video above, you can see little Luca instinctively throws herself backwards and kicks -- leaving mom Veronica Woodyard thrilled.

“To see a 7 month old floating, how can you not appreciate that? The fact is she's not drowning and that's all that matters because any other circumstance without this training it would be a very bad situation,” Woodyard said.

Luca is one of three children of Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard and mom Veronica who is quick to clarify it's not swimming lessons -- it's survival lessons.

Kennette says she never imagined her days would look like this after losing Ryan.

“I really didn't want to be an instructor, I became an instructor out of necessity because there's no one who lived in our state who did it," Kennette said. "So I learned it so I could teach my one year old and I had another child after Ryan died. People from there started learning I could do it and they wanted me to swim with their kids and I'm like, ‘No thank you, not doing that.’ “

However, parents kept asking and this mom reluctantly found her calling.

“I started helping other kids and it started helping me feel better,” Kennette said.

Lessons are 10 minutes long every day for 6 straight weeks. It's a commitment.

“It wasn't like I woke up and said 'I want to spend 10 hours in the pool today,' but there's that many people who want to do these types of lessons,” Kennette said.

Thankful parents Joseph Williams explained to Fox 17 News what his son Jack can do.

“To turn over and be able to float. just those core things. We were on vacation a couple of weeks ago and they were saying, ‘How is he doing that?’“

Jack’s mom Palmer added, “as a mama, I can't imagine going through what Kennette went through, but I love she's used it to help other families and protect other kiddos so the same thing doesn't happen again.”

Kennette wakes up every day without her Ryan, but she started and runs ‘The Ryan Pyles Aquatic Foundation’ with one mission -- and that is to prevent childhood drowning.

So, even if a child accidentally falls in with shoes and clothes on that, they know not to panic.

Pyles says she knows Ryan would be proud. She hopes drowning prevention classes like hers will one day be as common as car seats for kids.

You can connect with the Ryan Pyles Aquatic Foundation by clicking here or here.

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