I’ve been watching the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing with great interest. I love seeing the athletes put everything on the line to win a gold medal for their countries. The athlete who has most intrigued me, though, has been Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones. He is the second African-American to make the US Olympic swimming team after Anthony Ervin.
Today Jones won a gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay in a world record time of 3:08.24 with Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale. This win makes him the first African-American to hold or share a world record in swimming.
The thing that impresses me about Cullen is that he can swim extremely well and I cannot.
There I said it, “I can’t swim.” Unfortunately, I am joined by legions of black men who couldn’t tell a breaststroke from a backstroke.
I might have learned how to swim if not for an unfortunate experience that occurred when I was around ten years old. My cousin and I went to the public pool to cool off one summer. We took the bus and walked several blocks in the blazing heat to the park where the pool was located. After splashing in the pool for a couple of hours, we prepared to get dressed and go home. As I went to retrieve my clothing, I noticed that my sneakers were gone. This was before the days of Air Jordans and $200 sneakers. They were just simple pair of tennis shoes. I couldn’t believe it. Worse still, I had to walk down the searing sidewalk barefoot. My mother forbade me to go to the pool again.
I didn’t go swimming again until I got to college. At Howard, I had to take a swimming class to complete my degree requirements, but I never took the class seriously enough to really learn how to swim. I was a senior and the class was at 8AM. I pleaded with the instructor to just give me a C so I could graduate.
At the time, I did not fully understand the repercussions of my actions. Research shows that minority children are less likely to know how to swim if their parents don’t know how. Nearly 60% of African-American children can’t swim, almost twice the figure for white children. Black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate.
My wife and I, understanding the magnitude of these stats, recently enrolled our children in swim lessons. Actually we enrolled them last year, but the lessons were cut short by the birth of our baby. The kids are turning out to be great swimmers (much better than their dad). Their success has even inspired my wife to sign up for adult swim lessons.
I keep giving the excuse that my travel schedule prevents me from taking swimming lessons. While it is partly true, I’m sure that I could carve a few days throughout the month to spend some time with a private teacher. I’m just going to have to man up and sign up for lessons. I encourage all dads to do the same.
Even if you don’t take lessons yourself, make sure that your children do. It is a life skill that will benefit them greatly.
Join the conversation: How did you learn to swim?
Photo by cinezi via stock.xchng