Friday, May 22, 2009

Make a Splash and Save a Life: Teach Our Babies How to Swim

I’ll never forget the first day I took my baby girl, Mari, to see the ocean. She was so tiny—couldn’t walk yet without my holding both her hands, but insisted on letting those sweet little twinkle toes sink into the sand. She was fascinated by it all, and scared, too—so scared, indeed, that when we stood at the edge of the sand and the water rushed toward us, a warm trickle of baby nerves flowed right out of her Little Swimmers… down her leg… onto her toes… into the sand. It was as if, even at a mere 10 months, she was yielding to the power of the ocean—wide, vast, imposing. For Mari, the towel, further back—way back—on the sand was the place to be.

The water would have to wait.

But Nick and I knew Mari’s relationship with water couldn’t wait for long. We were living in the suburbs, right next door to a dear friend and neighbor who had a pool, and we often vacationed in places where water is revered. The girl needed to swim. And so swim, she did—in classes at the local YMCA and at the local pool at first, and later on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and Jamaica and Cape May and the Hamptons.

And when Mari fell in love with water, she fell hard.

These days, we have an entire pool of Chiles fish dipping in and out of swimming holes all across town; Mari swims like a shark, as does her little sister, Lila, who, too, took swim lessons starting at age three. Their big brother, Mazi, is a lifeguard at a local public pool. Oftentimes—too often—they are the only little brown children in the water.

Sadly, there is an explanation for this: According to a 2008 study by the USA Swimming Foundation, six out of 10 African-American children don’t’ know how to swim, nearly twice as many as their white counterparts, while 56 percent of Hispanic and Latino children are unable to swim. Why, you ask? Well, it’s because we parents don’t swim. Black and Latino children are six times more likely to be part of a family in which neither parent nor child can swim, and in those families, a whopping 91 percent of black children and 70 percent of Hispanic/Latino children will NOT learn.

What’s worse is that those sobering statistics are leading to all-too-many of our brown babies becoming statistics. Indeed, African-American children drown at a rate almost three times higher than white children in similar age groups—all because they don’t have the skills they need to survive the water.

Oh, but there’s hope, people, and it comes in the form of a 6’ 5” (hottie) U.S. Olympic gold medalist who’s passionate about using his fame to raise awareness on the issue and ensure more kids learn to swim—particularly in urban communities. Just as pools across the nation open this weekend for the summer season, Cullen Jones, the freestyle sprint Olympian who is the first African-American to hold or share a world record in swimming, is promoting the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash Initiative, which provides low- to no-cost life-saving swimming skills to kids, particularly those in urban communities.

Jones will travel to Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, and Los Angeles to meet with community leaders, parents, and children to spread the message that the ability to swim is a life-and-death issue that needs to be addressed not now—but right now.

“I didn’t learn how to swim to become an Olympic champion,” Jones says. “I learned how to swim, because when I was five years old, I almost drowned. Every summer these tragedies happen and we talk about how they could have been prevented; yet every year the statistics remain the same. I am committed to a real solution.”

Jones, in conjunction with the USA Swimming Foundation and ConocoPhillips, will also encourage increasing funding for learn-to-swim initiatives across the country; he'll be soliciting donations to the Make a Splash/Sponsor a Swim Lesson program, an online giving program that provides the public an opportunity to help fund free or low-cost swim lessons for kids who otherwise may not have the opportunity to learn.

Since its inception in 2007, more than 37,000 kids have gone through Make a Splash swimming lessons; currently, there are 68 providers giving free or low-cost water safety instruction across the country. For more information, or to donate or sponsor a swim lesson for a child in need, click HERE to check out

And for goodness sake, get your kids some swim lessons. Even if you don't want any parts of the water (trust me on this: I DO understand the significance of ruining a a fresh press and curl in pool water), your baby deserves this life-skill. It's easy enough to find low-cost lessons at the local public pool; make it happen, save your child's life. It's as simple as that.

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  1. Yea, I can't swim either... I think it's cause yea, I never wanted to ruin my press! it's sad cause I'm always terrified at water parks. My dad was a lifeguard and my mom didn't swim. My husband does though, and I'll learn before I take my kids in the water. Hopefully by then I'll have a shorter hair style or fros will be back in.

  2. I can swim and I was actually on the swim team in highschool and all three of my kids are like little fish..they love the water. My 7yr has been swimming on her own since 4 my two year old is learning now and my ten month old just likes to splash lol

  3. Please come get some award love

  4. @FutureMama: I used to swim all the time when I was little and didn't care about the hair, but as soon as I got conscious of what I looked like after I got out of the pool, I stopped. Now that I'm grown and could care less what people think about what I look like (I'm cute, even if my hair looks crazy, doggonit!) I actually get in the pool now, but I think I need refresher lessons because I don't swim well anymore. It's too much fun, though. You should take lessons!

    @Bearer of Three: I love that you have a family of swimmers! Perhaps you might consider donating a lesson for a child who needs them. Click the links in the story... and have fun in the pool this summer!

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  6. My mom (who isn't much of a swimmer) put me in swim classes at an early age. In fact, I won trophies at my swim school and just recently found some pictures of myself with quite the Cheshire Cat grin rocking my one piece and swimcap. LOL. Swimmers rock!

  7. Oh, what a wonderful post! My little brown baby (who is 9 years old now!) LOVES the water! He can swim with the best of them! He makes me so proud! Love your site!

  8. Plenty of non-swimmers in my family, too. My mom claims it's because she is from Ireland. Too cold for the water. I dunno...
    Thanks for the reminder.

  9. Very interesting. I wasn't aware of the statistics on this issue. I learned to swim very young...we used to go camping in the mountains and my dad taught all three of us the same way...seriously this is how we learned. He tossed us off the dock of a mountain lake and swim!!! It is amazing how fast you learn lol. I love what Cullen Jones is doing. It's great when you see athelets trying to make a difference and be positive role models.

  10. So true... and the stats give me goosebumps. My mom to this day can't find her way to the surface if her head goes under, so she started me on swim lessons at 6 months. And the wee ones have been taking lessons for awhile now, too -- for just this reason. I couldn't imagine having a tragedy befall them, but how much worse if it were something preventable?

  11. hey, came across your blog. although I don't have children quite yet, you've got some good advice on here. keep it up!

  12. I am so glad that you posted this on the site! I wanted my daughter to learn to swim, because I did not learn as a child. I found out about Infant Swim Resource (ISR)for my daughter last summer. The organization has been around for over 40 years! ISR has certified swim instructors to teach your child to swim 5 days a week for 10 minutes. Babies can learn to swim from 6 months - 6 years old. Every parent should make this investment for their child's safety. I urge every parent to go to to find lessons in your area.


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