Parenting.com spoke with Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones about his journey from nearly drowning to winning the Olympic gold. Here, he talks about giving back to the community by promoting water safety for all with the Make a Splash Initiative.
How did you get involved with the Make a Splash Initiative, and why do you think it’s so important?
I got involved with the Make a Splash Initiative in 2008 right after winning the Olympic Gold medal. USA Swimming foundation and Phillips 66 came and approached me and showed me the drowning statistics. After reading that 70% of African Americans don’t know how to swim and 60% of Hispanics don’t know how to swim, that’s when it became very real to me. This initiative has been a very, very big part of my life in the past five years. We are seeing the numbers changing so it’s been a success.
What do you think is the cause behind these numbers? Why is being able to swim so uncommon in African American and Latino communities?
Well, the University of Memphis put out a study in 2010, and you see three major factors. Number one being fear, number two being parental backing, and number three being physical appearance. So with knowing that information, the number one thing that we have seen when it comes to parents and children, fear trumps everything… so we’re really trying to fight an uphill battle. And I understand completely, as a five-year-old, I almost drowned. We are seeing that children themselves are either afraid because of an instance where they have had a bad experience, or parents projecting their fears.
Do you remember what your first swimming lesson was like?
I was a little nervous, obviously because I had almost drowned a couple weeks prior. So I understand where a lot of kids are coming from. I enjoy traveling all over the US and having kids that are so nervous, and kind of getting them to understand and relax around the water. It has been a pleasure, and very humbling for me as an Olympic athlete, to kind of give back and see kids that remind me of myself at that age.
What is a good age for a child to learn how to swim? What is a good age to enroll them in swim lessons?
You know, it is never too early and it is never too late to get kids involved in swim lessons. I taught, at the age of 15, a mommy and me class with newborns. Parents had their babies in the water, splashing around, and just getting them comfortable. So there is never really an age, as long as you have someone present, someone responsible there, to teach.
What are the top three things parents need to remember about swimming now that pools are opening around the country? What kind of advice can parents give to their children should they happen to find themselves in a pool without knowing how to swim?
The number one thing would be definitely to get your kids water safe, get them some lessons, and teach your children how to swim. There is no other remedy for drowning than swim lessons, and if you give your children that, you are giving them the tools to be safe. The second thing is, tell your children never to swim alone. I myself, as an Olympic gold medalist, I even have lifeguards that watch over me when I am training. So all kids should have someone that is there, a responsible adult, that is watching out for them as they play, as they swim, or as they train for the junior Olympics, whatever your next step may be. And the last thing is definitely to obey the pool rules. Every pool has rules like no horseplay. With the Make a Splash Initiative I travel all over the US. The biggest thing I want to tell kids not only is to be safe around the water, but also is to have fun.