Louis Lowenthal was not participating in a group practice when he was stricken a week ago today at the Meadowbrook swimming facility of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. From sketchy reports, it appears he was swimming alone. Speculation centers on the possibility that he was doing breath-control drills, and if that gets confirmed I’ll be publishing more information on the grave dangers of that practice.
In any case, young Lowenthal was spotted inert at the bottom of the pool around 10 a.m. and a lifeguard was summoned. This suggests — again, speculation — that the lifeguard had not been engaged in on-the-spot duty.
Young Lowenthal was given CPR on the deck. He was taken by ambulance to Sinai Hospital, where he lapsed into a coma and died three days later. Autopsy results are pending.
In sparse communications to its membership, NBAC has invoked the Lowenthal family’s wish for privacy. Such a posture is, at minimum, self-serving. Over the space of more than a week — and certainly by the day after young Lowenthal’s memorial service, which is scheduled for Tuesday, November 6 — I also think it is a stance well past the public-interest expiration date.
Not noted in standard news reports so far is the fact that NBAC was purchased post-2008 Olympics by its star alum, Michael Phelps, and his coach, Bob Bowman. The founder of NBAC, Murray Stephens, a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, departed in 2010 amidst an allegation of sexual abuse by a former swimmer. My colleague in investigating swimming’s scandals, freelance journalist Tim Joyce, reported the molestation incident for Baltimore’s WBAL radio before the station suddenly and without explanation censored all his audio and text reports. (Joyce has not named either the alleged victim or the coach; this blog has named the latter: Stephens.)
I believe all interested observers of the Lowenthal tragedy should share my revulsion at the invisibility of NBAC co-owner Phelps, the most famous and important figure in the history of the sport. While NBAC’s administration and handlers issue incomplete, liability-limiting statements, Phelps has not even found appropriately comforting public words for the club community. Worse, he carried on with a PR tour of Brazil for his “youth foundation” and the Olympics, and all week, before and after the Lowenthal news, he was the subject of online jokes about his appearance on the cover of Golf magazine and his siblings’ anticipated participation in today’s canceled New York Marathon.