By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
"Sports" and "art" are generally viewed as polar opposites, like Mars and Venus, Mitt and Barack, or Hansen and Kitajima. Most athletes are not known for artistic prowess, though I don't understand why. Swimmers and artists are actually similar in many ways. We both spend copious amounts of solitary time confined inside our own minds. We both sometimes sport dyed, green hair. We both enjoy that arduous mental and emotional pursuit of a singular goal (even if that "pursuit" results in one of those pitch-deaf "American Idol" auditions, or its swimming equivalent -- my long-course 200 butterfly's final lap.) Once, a film professor stopped me after class. He said, "I've never seen an athlete take my class who had an artistic side.” I was offended. To me, sports is art.
So, let's prove them wrong. The "Make a Splash" initiative is holding a video contest. Basically, the video has to display how your community is committed to water safety. The finalists go to a public vote, and the winner gets a visit from Cullen Jones as part of a stop on the Phillips 66 Make a Splash tour with Cullen Jones and $5000 to a local learn-to-swim program. (Be sure to read the rules here.) As a once-film student and former USA Swimmer, I can’t wait to see how creative the USA Swimming populace is. To get some of you inspired (you still have 9 days to enter) I've brainstormed a few video ideas.
1. Hand Out Fliers. I've done this before for a web series called “Chlorination.” We went to Long Beach and passed out fliers stating where the local Grand Prix meet was taking place. One kid asked me, "Are there going to be sharks?" I responded, "Michael Phelps will be there."
2. Make A Rap Video. Ed Moses did this, and it was/is one of the greatest swimming videos on the internet. There's no reason why you can't rap about water safety and make it actually cool. Might not make the Billboard Top 40. Or Top 100. Or Top 250. But you could save a life. Which is more than most Grammy artists could claim.
3. Propose To Your Girlfriend While Explaining Water Safety. Matt Grevers and Annie Chandler already showed the world that candid proposal videos garner millions of views. Imagine two lifeguards talking to a class about how not to swim alone, when one turns to the other, gets on one knee.... Romantic, no?
4. Run A Day-Long, Totally Free Swim Clinic. A club in Oklahoma ran a free swim clinic and then opened up the swim clinic participants to swim lessons afterwards, free of charge. Why don't you do this, too? Produce a video and send it in.
5. Produce Water Balloons That Have Water Safety Tips Written On Them. Contrary to popular belief, kids read. They just don't read Shakespearean plays. They do, however, read commercials, magazines, video game instructions... I myself was prone to the backs of cereal boxes. Loved reading them. You could have printed The Iliad on the back of a Frosted Flakes cereal box, and I'd read it 30 times over. So how about some water balloons with 5 water safety tips on them?
6. Start A Petition To Get Swim Education In Your School. Did you know Congress just formally acknowledged that swimming should be part of every school's curriculum? The guys behind International Water Safety Day helped pull that off, and there's no reason we can't go further. The best way to spread the message is to get education on water safety in schools. I remember we learned boating safety in Michigan. I don't even own a boat. You don't need water to learn swimming tips. Here are a few tips.
7. Profile A Water Safety Hero. Know someone who saved someone from drowning? Tell their story. Share their thoughts. Just by sharing, you could help save a life one day. Lifeguards at the beach do this all the time. There are a million significant stories out there. Just grab a camera and ask.
8. Mimic Late Night Shows. Pull a "Jay Walking" stunt and ask people what they know about water safety. Or a Letterman's Top 10 -- top tips about water safety. Having fun and playing is a great way to educate.
9. Visit an Adult Learn-To-Swim Program. If you don't do certain things as a kid, you'll never do them. (I've never been on a roller coaster. Won't do it now.) Make a video about adults learning to swim. Show that it's not a scary task, and anyone can learn to swim, at any age. Marcellus Wiley was in his thirties when he undertook swimming lessons, after he was in the NFL. Swimming is a lifelong sport.
10. Show Your Community’s Commitment. You don't have to invent a new gimmick to teach water safety. While these are more creative ideas to get kids excited about producing a video, many communities have programs and classes teaching kids and adults how to swim. Talk to the teachers and instructors. Some of the most passionate people I've ever met are swim instructors. It's a unique bond we Water People have. While this could be an opportunity to make something fun like a rap video or a game show about water safety, it's equally as effective to simply show your community's commitment to water safety. Swim classes. Learn to swim programs. Scholarship programs. Clinics. Education classes. Fliers. Signs. Pamphlets. Whatever your community does -- highlight it. Share the story. I'll never forget when I visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I talked to coaches and parents and swim instructors. They were committed to water safety, like it was the difference between life and death. Because in many places, it's exactly that.
How is your community committed to water safety? And if it isn't already -- what are you going to do about it?
Though some might turn their nose at you and say something condescending like, "Athletes and art don't mix," as long as you're spreading the message about water safety, like any passionate piece of art, that's something to behold.