I was devastated last year when I learned about the drowning of six children in Louisiana, all family members, who lost their lives trying to save each other because they did not know how to swim. I was even more shocked to discover that adult family members watched in horror as each child drowned, because they did not know how to swim themselves. I learned about this tragedy during my annual family trip to White Water last summer with my six nieces and nephews. (For the full article, see “Fun, Fear and Facts: Fun at White Water Exposes Black and Brown Fears and Color Blind Facts.”) While my family and I were enjoying our day at White Water last year, I soon discovered that my nieces and nephews, ranging from three to nine years old, did not know how to swim either! Following our excursion I conducted research about the Louisiana drownings and learned that African Americans and Latinos disproportionately do not know how to swim. At that moment I made a commitment to teach my nieces and nephews how to swim.
During the spring we began our lessons, swimming twice a week. Our first session really surprised me. Although each was excited about going swimming, none of the children wanted to put their heads under water! They were scared to death! In fact, it took almost ten minutes to convince the oldest boy, who is nine, to put his head under the water. Although they wanted to swim, all of the children were fearful of the water! From the beginning, I realized that it would take some time to get the children comfortable in the water. I worked diligently yet gradually to build each child’s confidence. At every lesson we learned a basic swimming skill and at each session the children became more and more confident. I was absolutely amazed by their progress. My goal was for the children to learn how to swim by our annual summer trip to White Water.
Well, our family took our annual trip to White Water in August. Although they have not mastered the water yet, my nieces and nephews have definitely improved their swimming skills and, most of all, they have begun to diminish their fears of the water. My sister Rhonda quickly observed their progress and commented on their significant improvement. Rhonda recounted how last year, while the oldest boy was sitting on an inner tube in the Lazy River, my husband overturned the inner tube in a playful gesture. You could just see the immense fear in my nephew’s eyes as he emerged from the water. My sister commented on how she could tell a big difference between that experience and the children’s relationship with the water this year. She noted how they were all going under water with no problem and they were all swimming on their own. I was so proud that she could see the progress, but most of all I was proud of the children!
Now all of my nieces and nephews inquire about and anxiously anticipate their next swimming lessons. They are so excited about learning how to swim and want to learn more. They are also motivated by the fact that we have offered them summer passes for White Water next year, if they learn how to swim by the summer. With consistency, a lot of hard work and commitment they will all make substantial progress and achieve their goals.
If you or a family member do not know how to swim, I encourage you to contact your local natatorium, community center, college or university or American Red Cross and enroll in swimming lessons. It is imperative that you and your family members learn how to swim. Additionally, swimming is great form of exercise and will help you to achieve optimum health. I look forward to hearing about your progress and seeing each of you at our annual family trip to White Water in 2012!