By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
When Ryan Lochte charged to the wall this summer in London, carrying the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans watching, not many people knew his Cuban background. That his mother, Ileana, was born in Havana. That she moved to the United States when she was seven. And when Ryan heard the Star Spangled Banner playing the first time in 2008, and probably every time after that, his mother couldn’t help but think of her Latino parents:
“When he won the gold medal, the individual gold medal, and all I could think about was what my parents went through and how he’s there representing the United States. And my parents wanted us to be there so badly, to be in the United States,” Ileana Lochte told NBC Miami. “To see him up there with the American flag, it was great.”
Ryan Lochte is a success story that will likely be shared at the second annual F.A.S.T. (Fairview Aquatics Swim Team) Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet, taking place October 6th-7th, 2012. (Deadlines are this Friday, September 28th.) Especially when you consider that a majority of Hispanic or Latino origin children cannot swim, Lochte’s story, and that of his Cuban-born mother, could provide inspiration to many Hispanic or Latino parents and children who stay away from the pool.
In the United States, over one of every two children of Hispanic or Latino origin cannot swim. According to a study by the University of Memphis and USA Swimming, 58% of kids of Hispanic or Latino origin are not able to adequately swim.
Which is why next month’s FAST Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet is so important. The meet is the second-ever meet of its kind sanctioned by USA Swimming. It will help build the sport of swimming in those communities, and it will give people of similar backgrounds a chance to come together and celebrate the sport. It takes place during National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October15) in White Plains, New York. (Should you want to participate, you can email fastentries@Gmail.com.) It will run for two days.
The Hispanic meet follows in the footsteps of other successful diversity-centric swim meets, like the National Black Heritage Swim Meet, held annually in May in North Carolina. At that meet, many successful and elite swimmers talk to the kids, give clinics and swim alongside the athletes, and there are numerous social events to bring the community together, like breakfasts and dances for kids on Saturday nights. The meet has been a template for other diversity swim meets around the nation.
In a nation that has 50 million people of Hispanic or Latino Origin (US Census 2010), there are literally millions of children who lack swimming skills. The FAST Hispanic Heritage meet hopes to raise awareness as well as encourage further participation in the sport, so maybe, one day in the future, more swimmers at the elite level will be of Hispanic or Latino origin. While this summer there were more diverse swimmers competing in London for Team USA, the numbers do not come close to reflecting U.S. demographics.
Ryan Lochte, of course, is probably one of the most famous U.S. athletes with Cuban origins. Ryan Lochte’s mother has talked to local news outlets about his Cuban origins, about his love for eating bistec empanizado, ropa vieja, and croquetas and other Cuban dishes served by his 91-year-old Cuban grandmother. Thousands in the Florida community have shared his story. Thousands have embraced his mother’s background and, hopefully, thousands more will see him swimming to Olympic gold and say, “Maybe we should sign up our kids for swimming lessons, too.”
Sometimes all it takes is knowing it can be done. Or, conversely, if a parent cannot swim, there is only a 13% chance the child will learn to swim. During National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s important to know that there are 50 million people in this country of Hispanic or Latino origin, and one particular Floridian with a Cuban mom went on to become one of the greatest swimmers of our time.
Hopefully, there will be many more.
If you’d like to sign up for the FAST Hispanic Heritage Swim Meet, contact Jennifer Parra at email@example.com or call at (347) 276-6747.