Swimmer urges water safety

Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones give swimming lessons to Niko Diop, a pre-kindergarden student at Harlem's P.S. 125 in New York. Jones is ambassador for the 5th Annual USA Swimming Foundation's "Make a Splash Tour," providing free swimming lessons, water safety education and awareness at city pools. (The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 1:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 1:53 p.m.

New York

In Beijing and London, U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones was fierce in the water, bringing home gold and silver and setting a world record along the way. In the pool at P.S. 125, a Harlem elementary school, he was a sweetheart as he laughed, splashed and assured nervous 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds that they shouldn't be afraid to get wet.

Summer's almost here and that means pools, lakes and ocean beaches for millions of kids, but it's a precarious season for a great many who don't know how to swim.

About 70 percent of African American children can't swim, according to research, government data and the USA Swimming Foundation, the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming, the national body for competitive swimming. The number of non-swimmers is about 60 percent among Latino children and about 40 percent among whites.

“It's a big challenge,” said Jones, who nearly drowned when he was 5 and flipped face down while on a huge slide at a Pennsylvania water park.

Ten people drown each day in the U.S. and drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for children under 14, according to the foundation.

The reasons more black and Latino kids don't learn how to swim or don't perfect their skills to lifesaving levels are varied, said Jones, an ambassador for Make a Splash, the foundation's safety initiative, and Debbie Hesse, the foundation's executive director.

For urban kids, it's sometimes a question of access to pools and free or affordable lessons.

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