By Meridith Roberts//Contributor | Friday, March 17, 2017
Kathy Mendez has a long list of accomplishments and accolades when it comes to her resume as a swimming volunteer. She’s currently USA and Oklahoma Swimming’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair, Oklahoma Swimming’s Diversity and Inclusion All Star Head Coach and the Native American Swim Meet clinic creator and Event Director.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee works to include and provide opportunity in swimming for people from diverse backgrounds like religion, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, age, income and many more.The main objective is to bring swimming to diverse populations so that more kids can have the opportunity to participate in USA Swimming. As chair, Kathy oversees the creation and execution of the committee’s goals of inclusion and helps them work towards new goals. Kathy explains, “The main goal is to diversify the sport by getting more people in the water who are diverse and under-represented. Swimming should be inclusive for all.”
The committee works to develop educational programs and resources for LSC’s, clubs and coaches. They provide best practices on achieving outreach to multi-cultural communities that normally might not get the opportunity to participate. The committee also works to identify outreach memberships to help economically disadvantaged families to get involved in swimming.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee has also helped to organize a National and Zone Diversity Inclusion Select Camp, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Swim Invitational, the Black History Invitational Swim Meet, the Native American Cultural Swim Meet and many other opportunities and events to celebrate and welcome different heritages and ethnic groups. Kathy explains, “The camps are set up so diversity and inclusion athletes and coaches can have the opportunity to train and learn.”
Kathy, who has been a life-long resident of Oklahoma, created the Native American Cultural Swim Meet and Clinic six years ago. “All Native American children are invited to come to the swim clinic. After the clinic, we host a swim meet for all the USA Swimmers who are 14 and under.” It’s an exciting way to encourage children who normally might not be exposed to the sport to learn and take part in swimming.
Kathy’s roots in swimming and volunteering run deep. She took swim lessons as a young child and started swimming competitively at age 7. By the time she was a teenager, she was volunteering as a coach. 20 years ago, she started volunteering for New Day Camp, a program for children whose parents are incarcerated. This experience really ignited her passion to bring swimming to everyone. “When I got there, it was apparent that the children hadn’t ever had any swim lessons, so I started giving them swim lessons. Now, they all get formal swim lessons while they’re there.”
When it comes to volunteering, Kathy enjoys contributing to the sport that has given her so much. She says, “You always get back more than you give.” She enjoys seeing children learn how to swim because it can “literally save their lives and provide life skills to help them through life’s ups and downs.”
For Kathy, swimming has been an all-encompassing part of her life. She’s also co-owner of the King Marlins Swim Club in Oklahoma City and coaches the team daily. Outside of the pool, she has been married to her husband Robert for 27 years, has 5 children and 7 grandchildren.
In the future, Kathy plans on continuing her work to bring the sport to everyone. She says “My dream really is that every person in Oklahoma will have the opportunity to learn to swim.”