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Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.

From The New York Times:

Her Parents Thought Swimming Lessons Were a Good Idea

Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.…

Former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka

Good video about former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka


Can African Americans Swim Well Enough to Save Themselves?

Culturally speaking, most African American men and women do not swim well enough to save themselves, and for those who can swim, most do not participate in organized water sport activities. Why is this? Can the culture of non-swimmers be reversed? How?

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Personally speaking, I take the responsibility to encourage the parents of African American children and themselves to learn to swim. I state the statistics and then encourage by explaining that swimming is a life skill, just like english and math. I say further, "you just don't know, it may win a scholarship, lead to a marine biologist, build character by learining to work with and be a part of a team, forge lifelong friendships through competition, other aquatic interests and opportunities; both profitable and spiritually satisfying. Last but not least Mr. President swims." I did email him about this same subject. I have offered and encourage to spend the money for swim lessons to 2 children that are not related to me.

I take the personal responsibility.
You ask some very thought provoking questions that need to be addressed. I love the answer Michele gave, and we need more people like Michele doing what she does with passion, and taking personal responsibilty for what she does. I so desire to emulate people like both you, Michele, and countless others, who do what they do to encourage swimming, particularly to African American Children. I do believe the culture of non-swimmers are being reversed when I see people like Wanda Butts and the Josh Project, promoting swimming to those who would not be able to afford lessons throughout the Toledo area, and John Cruzat, who is a phenominal representative of USA Swimming, promoting swimming through out the country Errol, I so desire to join those who make a difference in the lives of not only African American Children, but ALL Children for reasons that Michele stated, but more importantly, to save lives.d Here in my rural town, swimming is almost unheard of African Americans. I am triying to get a pool developed here, so I can join those who believe in the motto of: "EACH ONE, REACH ONE, TEACH ONE" The number of drownings would decrease tremendously, if all who can swim, take this motto and apply it. Generational cureses would be broken as it pertains to the water. I applaud your efforts and pray that you continue doing what you do. God Bless You. Darrick aka dswimmerman
Thank you, Darrick, for the very kind words. Swimming has been a passion with me for all of my life. I cannot remember a day in my life when I was NEVER a swimmer, but I do remember my genesis, my very humble beginnings. But that is a story for another day. I taught swimming (all levels) at Hampton University for 21 glorious years. But I especially enjoyed teaching the non-swimmers the basics of swimming. I discouraged swimmers from taking my beginner class - they were directed to the intermediate or advanced or scuba classes. I sometimes conducted forums during class about the students' experience in swimming. Many were told by a parent or loved one, in growing up, to stay away from the water because you will drown. Some students took swimming lessons at HU in absentia of their parents knowledge, afraid they would be told, "No, I pay the bill, not you, no swimming!" My classes were full, sometimes 25 or 30 students per class (the cut-off was 20), one lifeguard and one teacher, me. The beginner class was popular, and the students enjoyed it. My success ratio for non-swimmers well exceeded the 90% threshhold, and it sometimes reached 100%. I invented a basic stroke called the wing-it stroke. Actually, I named an already existing swimming movement and modified it into a storke for breathing, and named it the wing-it stroke. It worked, and the word got out after years of success, so that all the non-swimmers (who wanted to swim) wanted to wing-it! I have noted that some of my former lifeguards and scuba divers from HU are members of DAP. I am trying to get them to say some words. Maybe I will create some discretionary time and get back in the swimming pool as a volunteer swim teacher here in Hamapton. God knows that people do need to learn this skill, and I do have some fire left in this old body of mine. But I agree with you, we need to do more by teaching our youth that swimming is FUN, not dangerous, and if you are good at it, you can become a lifeguard and earn money during the summer months and weekends while in school, or perhaps earn a scholarship at a college to get a degree. Take care.
Hi Errol,
I had an opportunity to attend Hampton Univ. back in the late 70's on a full swimming scholarship, and I blew it!!!! This is one of my life's greatest regrets, in that I could have saved my parents $$$$$, but instead, I opted not to take the scholarship due to such a low SAT/ACT score, and I wanted to go into a field that I started off behind my peers. I was counseled to either choose another field and take the scholarship, or skip swimming, because I would need lots of tutorial in order to catch up with my peers, who had accounting and bookkeeping in high school. What a terrible mistake I made based upon the advice I was given. My older brother swam for Tennessee State University around the same time frame. If I could do it over again, I would probally still be residing and working in the beautiful State of Virginia. However, this has done nothing to discourage my love for the water and like yourself, teaching. Hope all is well with you and I will keep up more with DAP. Hope you can convince your former lifeguards and scuba students to join us and share their experiences. Take Care and God Bless You Errol. Darrick
Hi Darrick,
So sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. You were a very good competitive swimmer to receive a scholarship to swim for HU, so I congratulate you on your watermanship. Was Coach Hughley the swim coach at that time? And you must know Janine Antoine; she was one of the last scholarship swimmers at HU. Coach Sid Moore was semi-retired at that time. I had a partial for two years at Southern University, my alma mater. We swam Tennesse State twice during my swimming days, and they beat us both times. We came close the last time out, we were leading the meet by 2 or 3 points down to the last relay, which was won by TSU. So sad, it was a great meet. Thurman Robins was our star swimmer. He was a great breaststroker and IM'er, nobody could beat him in those events. Thanks for taking me down memory lane. And best to you, Darrick, talk to you soon.
I wonder if the question is not can this culture be reversed, but rather will this culture be reversed? My personal experience with former swim kids points to the idea that sometimes swim training can be so tough on the child (or her hair) that they don't want to swim when they're older.

What can we do about that?

Hi Angela. Hair will always be an issue with most girls, women and the mothers who take care of their daughter's hair (all cultures). It is more of a problem with Black children and parents, especially if the hair is long. My advice is to cut the hair short, it is easier to care when shorter. But do not take my word for it. There are excellent role models to choose from for advice on black hair, to include Maritza Correia, and the daughter of Dr. Thurman Robins, who was a swim champion for the U of Texas (forgot her name); both were NCAA swim champions, and Maritza is a world class swimmer. I will get the word out to them for their advice. The choice is really priority: what is more important, learning to swim, or profiling to look cute? This is what it comes down to, nothing more, nothing less. You learn to deal with what is real when you choose. Black parents do need an attitude adjustment about water, and hair is just a drop in the bucket of the bigger problem. I have a story to tell you, a true story. If you read my bio, you will know that I was on the faculty at Hampton University for 21 glorious years. Well, one of my contributions to university service was to assist with the Honors Program. We did cultural activities, to include swimming. At the end of the second semester of their senior year, the honor students were required to do a project to maintain hornors status, and to present it at a forum for entertainment and discussion. Well, one young lady talked about how to maintain beauty (and she was very attractive). She stated in her remarks that her father told her a woman's beauty is in her hair, and she wanted beautiful hair, so she stayed out of the water. My head lifeguard also did a presentation, and oddly enough, it was on black hair. She challenged her peer, and said that hair should never be a reason to not learn something of value (what an answer, I was proud of her). I believe they each learned something of value from the other. My head lifeguard offered to teach her how to swim, and how to take care of her hair from a chlorinated swimming pool. I will contact Maritza (somehow) and Dr. Robins regarding their opinion on taking care of hair. It is a challenge, not an obstacle to learning to swim or participating in competitive swimming. The second part of your question implies that swim kids (girls) don't want to swim when they are older because of hair. Maybe, and maybe not. I suspect the REAL reason is that most girls discover boys sooner than boys discover girls. If this is the case, not to worry. They learned something of value, and they learned well. I have two children (they are now young adults with families and children of their own). They were told by age 8 by my wife and I that they had to swim on a swim team for two years. I coached the swim team, in Wellesley, MA. For all they knew, all children had to be on a swim team by a certain age. When our daughter turned 13, she did not want to swim anymore, and she was the top backstroker on her swim team. Our daughter kept her hair short. Our son, not so talented at an early age, stuck with it, and became an excellent compeititor in high school; he made finals in all of his freestyle district swimming events. Our daughter discovered boys. What to do? How about an attitude change, and then put your child on a swim team for two years. No "buts"!!! Hope this helps, take care.
This was very helpful, Erroll. Thank you!

I agree that swimming is a greater priority than hair. I stopped wearing a perm because of swimming, and I have never permed my children's hair, partly because of swimming. Swimming is my passion, not their's and I'm trying to let them off the hook. It's killing me, though, because I think that swimming has so much to offer.

My oldest two children swam competitively for 5 years; I guess that's pretty decent. I have four younger children that have yet to get the skills to swim competitively, but I hope to get them on that road this summer. (Winter swim meets in Michigan are a special kind of torture). I'll let you know how it turns out.
One day you will have to let them off the hook. Angela, you did your job (parental values) suerbly! You are light years ahead of the bell curve and 99.9% of most African-American families (are you a single parent?) when it comes to swimming. One day more Cullen Jones' and Maritza Correia's will come along and pick up the slack. Competitive swimming is important, but it is not the essence of swimming. You cannot want this for your child without their participation. You are a jewel, keep the flame burning, and your passion will be seen by others. I see it, yes I do. Stay tough, and keep it real. Best to you.
Thank you so much Errol, and no, I am not a single parent. I was fine with the children bumbling along in swim lessons for years without really learning how to swim. It was my husband who knew that they would only learn to swim if they got into competitive swimming. It was after they got in there that I saw what the sport had to offer and I wanted them to continue in it.

So my husband is the visionary; I'm the cheerleader.
I do not need to give you advice, for sure, not after your great testimony. You have been there, and like your husband, you saw the value of competive swim training beyond the competition. And I like the vision both of you share. I just wish that more African-Americans would take the blinders off so they can become more enlightened and illuminated. When I was a child growing up in New Orleans, our mother (I have 2 sibling sisters) often stressed the value of knowing how to speak well, read, write with clarity, and the virtues of knowing math (so no one steals your money). My father chimed in with knowing how to swim well. Swimming??? Why is it so important, I asked? He said if the Africans knew how to swim when they came to the Americas, slavery would have ended before it got started. It was a metaphor, but I understood the lesson later in life. When it became my turn, like you and your husband, I stepped up to the plate and did my part. U R a grand lady, I bow to you.
One thing that has been on mind regarding our community and swimming is role models. Certainly for myself I never knew of any swimmers when I was growing up, even though I loved the water and have grown up near the sea in California my whole life. When I learned to swim it was at the hands of my good friend and coach Terry Laughlin (Founder of Total Immersion Swimming) As I grew more passionate about swimming and open water swimming in particular I began to look around for role models. Sadly in the arena of open water the only one that I know of is Charles Chapman, the first African American to swim the English Channel back in 1981, and the only person to do the whole swim butterfly!!!!!

Anyway, after more searching I determined in my mind that one way I am going to motivate young Black children into the water is by setting and accomplishing some goals of my own. In 2012, I will be attempting to swim The Cook Strait and 18 mile distance from the south to the north islands of New Zealand. Only 74 people have completed the swim thus far, and of those all have swum the English Channel and say the Cook is harder.

Why in the world would I want to swim in a body of water filled with jellyfish and sharks? Well partly it is to challenge myself to be sure, but more importantly it is a unique opportunity to show young people that swimming can be learned and SHOULD BE LEARNED!

Sorry for shouting :)

We all know that swimming needs to be seen as a life skill first and sport second. We all know that mis-information still exits not only in our won communities but in others as well. This summer I am planning on bringing five children of color with decent swim skills to San Francisco's Aquatic Park and show them the joys and techniques of open water swimming for a week, then at the end of the week I'll bring them out to Alcatraz Island and have them swim back to the mainland.

I have seen young peoples eyes light up when I tell them that I swim every day in water that ranges from 49F in the winter to a high of 60F in the summer naked (i.e. without a wetsuit) year round and I love it. Often many have said they would like to try it and never thought of doing it before simply because they never saw Black folks in the ocean.

The ideas in this discussion so far have been exciting and doable, what we need now is to encourage the parents to support the kids in this. It doesn't necessarily have to be financial support, emotional is just as important and maybe more so.

And finally when I hear folks say, "Man, we don;t need to swim we play basketball, football and even golf and tennis now!" and my reply is always the same, 'Ah yes that's true. But - to the best of my knowledge - I've never heard of anyone dyng because they couldn't dunk, catch a sideline route pass, shoot three under par, or volley at the net.'

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