Learning to Swim Saves Lives

Zaydell Cotton smiled proudly as she watched her 10-year-old daughter Mia dive in and swim freestyle across the 25-yard Alondra Park pool in Lawndale on a recent afternoon.

She was haunted by the memory of a friend drowning in a river and she was determined  that her daughter would never face that risk.  She put Mia in swim lessons when she was 6-years-old. It was brutal, with her daughter kicking and screaming the whole time and pulling her coach’s hair out. But within a week, the little girl was swimming. Today, Mia says she would like to become a lifeguard.

“Everybody needs to know how to swim,” said Cotton. “It’s should be like brushing your teeth.”

Summer in Southern California usually means cooling down at the beach or the local swimming pool. But tragically, approximately 10 people drown every day in the United States, according to a study by Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, African American and Hispanic children represent more than 65 percent of the victims.

So, swimming gold medalist Janet Evans teamed with Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the LA 84 Foundation to kick-off the Foundation’s Summer Swim Program, which promotes organized swimming sports and the benefits of swim lessons.

“Being a kid in Southern California, we are surrounded by pools and water,” said Evans, a four time Olympic gold medalist who learned to swim at 18 months. “Drowning is swift and silent. Learning to swim is a life-saving skill.”

The LA84 Foundation, endowed by surplus funds from the 1984 Olympic Games, will distribute more than $400,000 in grants to fund swim lessons and organized sports in public pools across Southern California, which will help reach 15,000 children across the region.

“We want kids of all ages to have fun in the summertime but it needs to be safe,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

“Now that school is out, it is important to take advantage of all the low cost classes that are available in our community pools. Learning to swim is a life skill.”

But the push to improve swimming skills is not just local. LA84 recently partnered with the USA Swimming Foundation, the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming, to help spread the message about water safety and the importance of swim lessons to an even broader  audience.  The organization’s Make a Splash initiative spreads the word about the need for swim lessons across the country, with the help of U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones. Next year, the foundation will launch its Make a Splash tour in Los Angeles in coordination with LA84.

At Alondra Park’s recently renovated pool, swimmers from the local teams, the Pirates and Titans, showed their swimming prowess by competing in relays, gliding across the deep pool in backstroke, butterfly and freestyle.

Tanya Jenkins marveled at how her 6-year-old son Aiden had gone from learning to swim in June of last year, to joining the Pirates swim team by September.

“At first, I just wanted him to get to the water’s edge and look at him now,” she beamed as Aiden swam across the pool. “I did not want him to become a statistic.”

For the complete schedule of summer pool programs in the second district, click here.