As I sit here on press row watching Finals during the 2010 US Swimming Nationals, it gives me a unique opportunity to reflect on how far swimming has carried me. I've been involved in the sport for more than twnety-five years now, and it's hard to imagine that I was once the kid who was terrified to jump off of the diving board. In fact, I was the kid who wouldn't jump off the board unless someone was positioned directly under me.
All these years later, swimming is still paying the bills and while I get to marvel from the deck at the growing popularity of swimming as a spectator sport and the celebrity of swimmers like Phelps, Jones, and Coughlin, I can't help but be disturbed by the continuing trend of young people drowning all across this country. My heart sank earlier today as I read the story of the seven youth who drowned in the Red River in Louisiana. Even more saddening was that of all their family members who were assembled to enjoy some good bar-b-que, none of them could swim either, so they had to stand helpless as their young ones were taken away in the fast moving current. It makes me thankful that as scared as I used to be standing on the edge of the diving board, one meter off the ground, my mother made me stick with the sport. I can't imagine the terror that those kids must have felt as they found themselves swept away from the safety of the ledge where they had been playing minutes before. As a member of USA Swimming, it's absolutely necessary that we do more to curb such incidents from continuing to happen.
Data from a study done by the University of Memphis in partnership with USA Swimming indicates that FEAR is one of the biggest factors keeping parents from involving their kids in swim lessons. While I understand the initial hesitation, I would humbly direct those parents to the example of my mother, who doesn't know how to swim, but was adamant that all three of her chidren (and now her grandson) learn how to swim. The fear of watching your little ones go through lessons is nothing compared to the lifetime anxiety you'll feel every time you're near a pool or open water with the knowledge that your loved ones can't swim. For the ethnic families that worry about the damage that chlorine does to relaxed hair, go with braids for a summer, or au natural until the kids are water safe. The sad reality is that cities large and small will continue to cut pool time from their recreation budgets as long as the public does not make use of facilities. Swimming has been too good to me for me to look at it as a sport that is killing members of my community.