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SWIMMER Editorials

  1. April Is Adult Learn-To-Swim Month (March-April 2014)

    by , March 1st, 2014 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    My mother claimed that I learned to swim before I could walk. I was the first one in and the last one out of the pool in our backyard and the surf at Stinson Beach. I can’t ever remember not feeling completely comfortable and safe in my watery playground. Like many kids, I dreamed of being a mermaid or a dolphin, and I vowed to be the first gill transplant patient so I would never have to return to the surface and the big scary world of humans.

    My story isn’t unique; many of our nearly 60,000 members learned to swim as young children: lessons at the Y, summers at the lake, surfing, swim team, or just a lifelong love of playing in the water and parents or geography that made it possible.

    If you had the good fortune to enjoy opportunities to become safe, comfortable, and skilled in the water, you might never have considered what it would be like to learn right now, at your present age. Or what it would be like to know that if you fell in, you could become one of the 10 people who drown every day in the United States.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, 37 percent of American adults can’t swim the length of a 25-yard pool. And of the 10 people who drown every day, eight of them are adults or young adults.

    The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, USMS’s charitable arm, wants to change these numbers. The foundation has declared the month of April Adult Learn-to- Swim Month, and has launched a nationwide campaign to promote the lifesaving benefits of swimming for adults. The governors of Indiana, Nebraska, and Washington have signed proclamations in support, and we’re working on getting more states onboard. You can learn more at usms.org/learntoswim.

    Since 2012, the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation has provided more than $70,000 to programs that offer adult learn-to-swim lessons in their communities. Bill Meier, coach of the Simon’s Rock Pacemakers workout group of New England Masters, was teaching adults to swim even before his program became a Swimming Saves Lives partner. One of his favorite students is Chris Pompi of Adams, Mass.

    Pompi, a father of three, was 38 years old when he went to Meier for swim lessons. “When I had kids, I realized that I needed to be able to swim in case anything ever happened to them in the water. And, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite—making them take lessons but not knowing how to swim myself.” Yet he kept his lessons a secret from his family until he was competent in the water.

    “I just never learned as a kid,” Pompi says. He remembers hanging out at the Jersey Shore as a young adult, but not joining his friends in the water. “I stayed on the beach, soaking up the sun, and when we went out on a boat, I wore a lifejacket. All my friends and family could dive off the boat and have fun. I just watched in envy.”

    Now Pompi, a civil engineer, enjoys swimming with his three children and is grateful for all Meier has done for his family. “I think the world of him, and so do my kids.”

    The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation exists because of the generous donations from our members. There’s an opportunity to donate when you renew your USMS membership, or at anytime by visiting usms.org/giving. If you’re able to give, you can be part of the team that’s trying to change the truly big and scary numbers of adults drowning.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:37 AM by Editor

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  2. Fear of Water (September-October 2011)

    by , September 1st, 2011 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    For the many experienced or lifelong swimmers in U.S. Masters Swimming, it can seem inconceivable that there are people who are terrified of getting into a swimming pool. What many of us take for granted—a safe, welcoming water world where one only has to pop up for air whenever the need arises—spells terror for some.

    Plenty of pool swimmers are afraid to swim in open water, but that’s a little different. Being afraid of sharks can even seem logical (especially if you tuned in to “Shark Week” recently). Some swimmers just prefer clear water, where there is no question about what the bottom looks like or what icky things may be floating around or underfoot. These swimmers still have the ability to enjoy the water and keep themselves safe. Most properly educated swimmers have a healthy respect for the water, not a debilitating fear.

    Nonswimmers with a deeply embedded fear of water have little or no chance of survival if they find themselves in the drink. Their panic will kill them, and possibly any would-be rescuers. They know this, so they avoid water, using tactics that are so subtle, they are often well into their adult lives before anyone notices that they have never been swimming. But they know the truth, and many of them carry guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

    Some of these people recognize the danger and their missed opportunities, so they ensure that their children learn to swim early and don’t suffer the same fate. Others pass their fears onto their children, creating another generation of risk and lost opportunities. In “Swimming Life,” we meet some USMS members who are making a difference in the lives of people who can’t swim. Melon Dash has spent her entire career teaching fearful adults how to swim. Taking up where traditional swimming lessons have failed, she specializes in the most terrified students. She runs her nonprofit with the goal of ending preventable drowning. Dash has touched more than 4,000 lives, giving these people the chance to enjoy and be safe in water.

    Dash is not the only Masters swimmer who feels this way. In fall 2010, Coach Diane Bartlett and her team, Grand Strand Masters Swimming, focused their efforts in their community. Recognizing a need, they banded together for a week to offer free swim lessons to children and adults in their underserved South Carolina town. With a little help from a USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation grant, 26 adults and 94 children are well on their way to becoming competent swimmers.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:51 AM by Editor

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  3. The Swimming Race (January-February 2010)

    by , January 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks drowning as the second leading cause of accidental death among children. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, approximately six out of 10 African-American and Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim. Children in these groups are about twice as likely to drown as Caucasian children. The rate of youth drowning deaths in ethnically diverse communities is two to three times higher than the national average.

    These grim statistics have fueled swim programs nationwide – programs with the goal of making sure all kids are water-safe. An article in this issue’s Healthy Swimmer brings us up to date on USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, which is providing seed money for learn-to-swim programs in underserved areas of the country. Program spokesperson, Olympian Cullen Jones, completed a six-city tour this past summer to promote awareness and kick-start programs.

    Programs and progress are encouraging, but a failure to examine the root causes of problems often creates more problems. The dearth of swimming skills among modern African-Americans has perpetuated a belief that blacks were always poor swimmers, despite evidence to the contrary. Kevin Dawson, assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, contributes some of his research findings in Splashback. Professor Dawson shares accounts of skilled black swimmers dating back to the late 1600s. From the Middle Ages onward, most Europeans did not swim at all. As these Europeans came in contact with Africans, they were amazed at their swimming abilities. So what happened? How did we get to today?

    Some believe that slaves born in the U.S. were not taught to swim because they would use it as a means of escape. This may have been true in isolated cases, but Dawson says what happened during Reconstruction and on through the civil rights movement has had a bigger impact. “Bodies of water that were previously used for recreation by blacks were often repositories for victims of racial violence,” Dawson says. Water became closely associated with terror and violence.

    When people are afraid of water, their children seldom learn to swim. Ergo, many generations of African-Americans did not learn to swim. In 1969, a now widely discredited study titled “The Negro and Learning to Swim: The Buoyancy Problem Related to Reported Biological Difference,” claimed that, due to heavier bones and muscle mass, blacks were not buoyant enough to swim well. Throw segregation into the mix, with little or no access to public pools and beaches, and the lack of pools in ethnically diverse communities, and the cycle continued.

    How does this relate to Masters swimming? USMS is proud to support the USA Swimming Foundation and its efforts to eliminate childhood drowning due to unequal opportunity. The Foundation has a presence in SWIMMER, and many USMS members donate directly. USMS is a supporter of the Foundation’s annual banquet, Golden Goggles. All of us in the swimming community can work together to make sure opportunities to enjoy and be safe in water are available to everyone, regardless of race.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:55 AM by Editor

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