Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Ryan Murphy was surrounded by water.
His hometown is where the St. Johns River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Murphy had both a beach and a riverfront not far from his childhood home. He was splashing around in a community pool when he was 2 years old, and he joined a summer swim team at age 4.
“Luckily I grew up in an area where everyone learns how to swim,” said Murphy, who won three gold medals and set the world record in the 100-meter backstroke at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
As Murphy got older and met people from other parts of the country, he realized not everyone was as comfortable in water as he. He has decided as a result to take on another mission – even as he looks to solidify his place as one of the world’s fastest swimmers at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Murphy has partnered with Goldfish Swim School, a premier learn-to-swim facility for kids up to 12 years old, to promote water safety. He wants to raise awareness and help parents understand the risk of kids being around water.
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of injury-related deaths among children ages 1-4 years old, with three kids dying from it every day in the United States. The issue has taken on even more significance lately for Murphy since May is National Water Safety Month.
“Obviously, he’s got a platform. He’s a very successful swimmer, but he’s also got a great reputation, which we have as well,” said Chris McCuiston, co-founder and CEO of Goldfish Swim School. “So, we wanted to combine our efforts to spread the word of water safety and drowning prevention.”
Murphy has been fortunate to not know anyone who has lost a child to drowning. However, he said he was sad to hear in June 2018 that Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan Beck Miller, a former member of the U.S. women’s national volleyball team, lost their 19-month-old daughter, Emeline, after she drowned in a neighbor’s pool.
“That was a story that really hit me hard just because if you’re enrolled in swim lessons at a young age it reduces the risk of drowning by 88 percent,” Murphy said. “So, this is largely avoidable.”
The Millers have spoken about their daughter’s death to help let other parents know about the dangers of pools. In late April, Beck Miller shared a video of their 6-month-old son, Easton, receiving an infant swim lesson.
Murphy understands the problem of water safety is widespread.
A year ago, Murphy met DJ Chark, a former LSU wide receiver who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second-round of the 2018 NFL Draft. At the time, Chark was just learning to swim.
“When I met him, he was in his second week of swim lessons,” Murphy said. “He was super excited, and (he) was not going to race up and down in the pool. He was excited about being able to actually go in the ocean and feel comfortable or be able to swim in a pool and feel comfortable.”
Murphy’s partnership with Goldfish Swim School to promote water safety is for three years. It made sense since he also serves as an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, which partners with Goldfish Swim School.
At the same time, Murphy said it was a “no-brainer” to use his high profile as an Olympic gold medalist to help draw attention to drowning prevention. Once he was made aware of the staggering statistics of kids who die in water, he wanted to be involved in the cause.
“His values really align with our core values with integrity and with trust and with just overall experience,” McCuiston said. “He’s just a good person that will allow us to forge together with spreading water safety awareness and drowning prevention.”
Murphy spent time earlier this month in New York talking with media outlets about the issue. Once he was done, it was back to training as he prepares for the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, in July, followed by the Tokyo Olympics a year later.
“I really view 2019 as kind of a setup year. We have trained incredibly hard, I know so far, in setting me up to be really good in 2020,” Murphy said. “I want to be good this summer, but my focus has stayed on the Olympics.
“So, that’s my target and the things that we’re doing (are) trying to set up for that. Going into the Olympics, I want to be the best and whatever events we decide to focus on I want to be the best at those events.”Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USA Swimming on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.