We're Diving In: Breaking Barriers at the Pool
"Stay fly, and never miss a piece of sunshine."
When Olympic athlete Cullen Jones became the first African American to break a long-course record swimming in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay at the Beijing Olympic Games, we all cheered. Why? Because in his own way, he was breaking a common stereotype that African Americans don’t swim.
We all know the running joke, go to a black pool party, and you’ll see two people in the pool and 50 people watching them swim. But did you know, according to a 2017 study by the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children have little to no swimming ability.
We can’t think of summers that didn’t revolve around the pool, even if it was the local park or water park. Growing up it was clear that everyone loved water, and yet the statistics tell us otherwise. We’re looking back at our own swimming barriers and sharing thoughts from a friend on why it was important to ensure their little ones have the skills needed to (navigate their way around a pool).
The Near Death Experience
For many people, fear of swimming comes from a near death experience. Meet Rasheena Moss, a wife, mother of twins, and someone who learned how to swim as an adult. Sheena was 14 years old when she decided to jump on a water slide at the pool. Little did she know this short slide would send her flying into 10-feet of water without her knowledge, skill, or preparation. “I did everything they tell you not to do in a swim class, I panicked. I flailed my arms, I slipped off the lifeguard's board, it was just all bad,” said Sheena. Although she never developed a fear of water, it would take another seven years before Sheena learned how to swim, in college.
For our co-founder CaCera, although she had access to swim lessons, she never quite mastered swimming. “Typically, if my feet can touch the bottom of the pool, or I don’t wade out too deep, I’m comfortable in the water,” said CaCera. “However, I had more than one experience as a child where I got bold in my abilities and almost drowned.” Although CaCera loves water activities, and still goes for the adventure safely, she is still not fully confident in her swimming.
Lack of Access to Pools
For some, if you are growing up in a neighborhood without pools in the backyard, it is easy to normalize your inability or desire to learn how to swim. For our co-founder Shawnie, she only took swimming lessons in the summer, at the local park or the YMCA. “Living in Los Angeles, there wasn’t a reason I shouldn’t be able to take lessons all year long, but growing up in South LA, there just weren’t any pools close to my house.” Also, for some working parents, particularly those who may not know how to swim themselves, it may be hard to find time to take their kids to lessons.
It’s Never Too Late to Learn
Sheena and Shawnie friendship go back over a decade. A part of that friendship was taking a swimming class together during their senior year of college. “I remember learning how to swim as a child, but I wasn’t confident in my ability, so when Sheena asked me to take a swim class with her, I was totally down,” said Shawnie. When they first walked into the class, Sheena was embarrassed. “Everyone was getting a refresher, and here I was learning how to swim for the first time,” said Sheena. However, it turned out to be one of the best things she did for herself. For her, learning how to swim completed not just her college career, but also gave her a life skill that she has taken well into her adulthood, especially as a mom. Now that families with pools in their backyards surround her home, she wants to make sure her boys know how to swim and wants to be able to help if something should ever go wrong. “I learned small things, like children who can’t swim yet should always be an arm-distance away from an adult… can you imagine watching your baby drowning, and there is nothing you can do?” said Sheena.
For Morgann Deloach, who is also a long-time friend and a mom of small children, she wants her children to grow up with confidence in their abilities. "Swimming lessons for my little one are important not only as a survival skill but also to build confidence in settings such as on vacations, pool parties or playing with friends at splash parks. In addition, I do not want my girls to be afraid of the water as they get older, or feel secluded from activities due to a lack of skills."
Organizations, like the YMCA, are also stepping up to change the narrative. According to an article on the YMCA’s website “…being a strong swimmer is also a life-saving skill that all children should have access to develop,” and they now have campaigns specifically targeting communities of color.