poolside thoughts: swimming, drowning, and making a splash.

whether celebrating our “independence” or not, like many others on the holiday yesterday, i was thrilled to open a text inviting me to a pool party. in fact, the first pool party i’ve been to this summer. i gathered what i call my diva hat (you know, big brim, neutral tan color, slightly floppy), my glasses, and my previously unworn  Victoria’s Secret swimsuit (don’t you love it??) in full preparation for a day of toe-dipping.

see, also like many of my melanin-enhanced brethren, going swimming to me doesn’t usually involve any diving, butterfly, doggie, front, back, or freestyle strokes (sidenote: is it me, or does swimming sound a lot like the other skin-baring activity we grown folks love so much?). it means glistening skin, deep tan, cute swimsuit, and a book of some sort; near or at a body of chlorine or fish-filled water.

the day was going quite well until some immoral soul decided to invite a swim into my life unexpectedly by pushing me into the water. as my body crashed into the oddly blue water, my mind quickly ping-ponged several thoughts throughout: i am going to kill him. after being a lifeguard in high school, i’ve completely forgotten how to swim. when did i become so afraid of water? i am going to KILL him. natural hair for the WIN. i wonder if i can emerge out of the water all awesome-like and do a Halle Berry in James Bond-esque strut out of the pool. i’ll probably drown before then. dang.

i eventually emerged as gracefully as i could (missed the Halle Berry by a few dozen sexy decibels) and tried not to act as traumatized as i was by this near-death experience. this man, whom i didn’t know from a can of paint, had been pushing women in the pool all day (because we’re 17 and all O_o) and i should have been more aware i suppose. that very real fear of drowning i came face to face with though made me ruminate on a recent sad event. a former classmate and friend of mine drowned last week in what i keep telling myself had to be a freak accident on a day out at the water. i can’t even imagine the sadness, the shock his family must feel. so sudden and senseless. my heart goes out. the reaction has been virtually the same for everyone i spoke to it about: why would he jump in the water if he couldn’t swim?

i honestly don’t know if he knew how to swim or not, but my question is, why don’t black people in general know how to swim? i had to ask this even more so after witnessing a little girl around seven on the opposite side of the pool slip into the eight foot end and almost drown before being helped by the lifeguard on duty. her mom stood by screaming at the nearly empty pool, scared because she didn’t know how to swim herself. amazingly, this was not even ten minutes after a friend had pointed out a tiny little white girl literally doing cannon balls into the eight foot end, emerging, swimming on her back, disappearing, and popping up into full out laps. it made me sad because statistically, black children are three times more likely to drown than white children.

i learned this a couple of years ago when i interviewed the muy caliente Cullen Jones, a black olympic gold medalist swimmer who started a program called Make A Splash, an initiative to help minority kids in inner city environments learn to swim. i remember talking to his mother as well, and she shared how he’d nearly drowned at age five, and after that she enrolled him in the all but free lessons at the local ymca so that she’d never have to worry about it again. he loved it so much that he began swimming competitively. she told me how she was usually the only black parent at the meets, how black parents let their own fear of the water determine whether their child would learn to swim, something even infants can be taught.

i know we’re midway through the summer and fully into pool-party season, but i would encourage everyone to consider taking a swim class if you’re going to be taking a dip. sign your children up. be proactive. stats also show that black and latino children possess a much higher confidence in their ability to swim, even if they’ve never done it. even if they only taught themselves. this over-confidence is the only thing i can think of that would make a smart man jump into a lake without having mastered at least one swim stroke. it may not seem important, but unfortunate, senseless drowning deaths can be avoided, and knowing how to swim just might save your or your child’s life one day.

do you know how to swim? would you put your kids in swim class? do you think it’s an important skill to know?

9 comments

  1. Please tell me you barked on dude that pushed you in the pool… that was crazy rude.

    Swimming is definitely a lost art in the hood. When I was a kid, my aunt took me on vacation to Orlando. We stayed at this Holiday Inn and I was mad hyped that it had a pool. I was like maybe 10 or 11 years old… doing my thing on the shallow side. Then I started kicking it with these white boys who were about the same age as me. They were mad cool. We were kicking it on the shallow side at first, then they started making their way over to the deeper side. I was like “chill, i’m good, yall do that.” But peer pressure is a mug, so finally, I told them I can’t swim and they were all helpful and taught me the basics of swimming and we all had fun.

    And that’s how I learned how to swim. Great post.

    You shoulda snuffed dude though.

    1. thanks! i’m glad you were honest and told them. a lot of little kids falsely believe they can swim just because they’ve seen someone else do it. lol.

      and maaaaayne. i was SO mad. by the time i got out of the pool and all though like two of the guys and a girl from the party i was with were all in his face going off, so i didn’t have to. i’d made it very clear that i wanted no parts of swimming yesterday. he was eventually asked to leave by the lifeguards. thank goodness.

  2. It’s funny you post this now because my husband and I were just talking about putting our five year-old son in swim lessons. I didn’t learn to swim until I was maybe sixteen or seventeen. My pastor taught me then. I went on to take a class in college too but I still don’t feel comfortable enough to go deep into the ocean or even anything that’s deeper than my height. I wouldn’t describe it as a fear but it’s a healthy discomfort with the water that I have. I like knowing that if I absolutely need to, I’ll be able to swim. I guess it’s time for some practice though.

  3. I am not a pro at swimming, but I know a little something to get me back to shore or the ledge. My family has always had us in camps and summer activity programs during our childhood and I learned how to swim while at Bible camp. Me and my sister actually introduced my nephew to the pool and swimming at about 7 months old and I just was informed by a friend of mine about a YMCA in Brooklyn that is really clean and also gives lessons, so we’re actually looking into joining before the summer ends.
    I can’t say that I don’t understand the fear of endless water as I’m still a bit hesitant about going into the deep end (and as a short person I really don’t like the unexpected drop and sinking feeling) but what I don’t get is the idea that someone would skip on life saving techniques and purposely go to a place of danger ie the pool or the beach. I totally agree that we should be more proactive in learning to swim, especially if there are places that offer free swimming lessons.

  4. As a 3rd generation Navy man, I didn’t really have choice learning how to swim. You get thrown in and figure the rest out. No ‘traumatic’ drowning experiences. You get out the water, throw up the rest that is in your lungs and go back in.

  5. Being the ‘crab’ that I am, I love water! I live in oceans… stay on a beach. 😀 I was about 3 or 4 yrs old when I first learned how to swim but it wasn’t something I cared to do often as a little girl so my skills became non-existent but when I was about 15 yrs old and moved to Alaska, swimming was a required course so, I ended up learning all over again and I’m glad that I did because I enjoy it and just in case I have to save a life or something.
    I guess ppl think it’s not a necessary skill and that they may nvr be near water where something can happen but for me, I often think about what if someone’s/my car flips into a deep river or what if I need to escape from a kidnapper and have to cross some deep lake (obviously, I watch too much Lifetime), ya’ just nvr know what may happen in life and it’s good to have certain skills plus, it’s fun.

  6. I do not know how to swim and when I was in the Bahamas for my 25th b-day (dang that seems like eons ago, I will be 32 tomorrow) I thought I was drowning. Everyone was yelling for me to stand up and when I did I said, “Oh” Also, when I was in Cabo for my 29th b-day, we swam with the dolphins. Only I freaked out and sat on the sidelines. I think I was more afraid of the dolphin than the water. When I have babies, I want them to learn to swim and I guess I have to add that to my list of ?s when I am on dates :/ “Excuse me brother…do you know how to swim…”

  7. yeah so i can’t swim. its not from lack of trying either. my parents didn’t put me in classes when i was younger. i’ve taken 3 different swimming classes in my adulthood and it just doesn’t work. i’ve accepted the fact that i’ll probably never learn to swim. it sucks because i can do most athletic things very well except for swimming.

  8. I am so glad I found your blog as I was doing research on drownings. My name is Ed Castillo and I am the President/Founder of California’s largest private lifeguard provider for events and film productions in the state (Golden State Lifeguards – http://www.goldenstatelifeguards.com). What caught my attention is that you touched on an area that I know to be quite true and is a topic I fear to broach for fear of being labeled racist or bigoted.

    You hit the nail on the head as I see this day in and day out during the course of the summer. I would always ask myself why I was spending so much time focusing on black children in the pool as it was always those little swimmers who needed to be plucked out of the pool because of their lack of swimming ability. It has been frustrating to say the least! Almost every contact I made with a black child was the same…they could not swim and the same of the parents. There were only a few kids who were the exception to the rule.

    I really wish there were more swimming programs made available to the black community and especially free programs. Those white kids you see have parents that pay big bucks to get swimming lessons for their kids while a large section of society that does not have the resources to do so get left out in the cold. It is my position that no one should be left out and every child should learn to swim no matter what their background is!

    We were recently working with the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club to bring a swim program for low income families but as it turned out, the club could not afford to to pay for our services which is sad. We were positioned to make sure that every boy and girl that wanted to learn to swim would get the chance to do so.

    I would love to invite you to contribute or write an article for our blog (http://xtremeguards.wordpress.com/). I want our readers to understand that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    Again, thank you so much!!!

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