Mohammed Ramzan told a teammate he could not swim, police report says

Mohammed Ramzan drowned in April in a crew team accident. A police report released to the Chicago Tribune this week revealed he had told a teammate beforehand that he could not swim.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Mohammed Ramzan drowned in April in a crew team accident. A police report released to the Chicago Tribune this week revealed he had told a teammate beforehand that he could not swim.

Cole Paxton, Web Editor

Mohammed Ramzan, the Northwestern freshman who died in April after falling overboard during a crew practice, said he did not know how to swim, according to an Illinois State Police report released to the Chicago Tribune.

The report, which was released through a Freedom of Information Act request, quoted a teammate who said that, only a few days before his death, Ramzan noted that he could not swim.

The report was not kept in a public database after its release. As of midday Friday, police had not responded to The Daily’s request for a copy of the report.

Ramzan was far from the only rower who could not swim, the report indicated, and a coxswain said that Ramzan’s remark “‘seemed like an off-handed comment,’” the Tribune said, citing the report.

Team members were not required to pass a swim test prior to practicing on the water, the report said, according to the Tribune. Ramzan was not wearing a flotation device, police said shortly after his death.

That is in direct opposition with guidelines established by USRowing, the sport’s governing body, which says on its website that “all rowers must be able to pass a swim test, preferably including putting on a life jacket while in the water.”

The athletic department, whose recreation division oversees club sports, examined the team’s safety standards, University spokesman Al Cubbage said, “in order to ensure that the club uses best practices in protecting the safety and well-being of participants.”

“Following the review, Northwestern Crew implemented a series of actions to further enhance the safety of participants, including additional training for team members and coaches, requiring members wishing to practice on water or compete at regattas to view safety videos and requiring members to pass a safety exam,” Cubbage said.

It is unclear if the “safety exam” includes a swim test. Cubbage did not elaborate.

The Apr. 10 drowning, which had been previously declared an accident, happened after Ramzan incorrectly inserted his oar into the water, causing it to ricochet back and strike him, the report said. That, in turn, caused him to fall overboard.

A coach and rower jumped into the North Shore Channel in Lincolnwood in an attempt to rescue Ramzan, but they could not. His body was found that evening.

Northwestern Crew president Katie Cavanaugh said the club had no comment, instead referring a reporter to Cubbage. According to its website, the team is seeking two new part-time coaches for the novice team, which Ramzan was on.

Ramzan, a Weinberg freshman, was part of the QuestBridge Scholars Network and the Muslim-cultural Student Association. He joined the crew team as part of an intensive exercise routine to combat his long-term scoliosis, since he could not afford to see a doctor, his friend Samantha Flood said.

An Auburn, Washington native, Ramzan was “a lover of life,” said Tahera Ahmad, Northwestern’s associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement. Shortly after his death, students painted The Rock in Ramzan’s honor.

Ben Pope contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Mohammed Ramzan’s first name. The Daily regrets the error.

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