From Citi Field to the top of the Empire State Building, the USA Swimming Foundation is in New York this week to spread its message about the importance of teaching kids to swim.
Such events are not uncommon for the USA Swimming Foundation, the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming, but this one marks the 50th stop since its Make a Splash Tour presented by Phillips 66 began in 2009. It also coincides with May being National Water Safety Month.
To commemorate the occasion, representatives from the foundation have a full schedule of events planned for today and Wednesday, including throwing out the first pitch at a New York Mets game, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show and traveling to the Empire State Building for a photo op.
As with previous tour stops, the USA Swimming Foundation hopes its high-profile events around New York will raise awareness about water safety and help parents understand their children are less at risk of drowning if they know how to swim.
“It’s really about celebrating that we have changed people’s lives, that children are learning how to swim and that with our partnership with Phillips 66, that we’ve really made a difference in kids’ lives,” said Debbie Hesse, Executive Director of the USA Swimming Foundation.
“We occasionally get a call from a parent who has lost a child to drowning, and there’s nothing worse. We want to overcome every child being in the situation where they may drown, and that may not be possible. But we want to educate as many parents about how swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent.”
The Make a Splash Tour was started in 2009 with the goal of teaching children to swim and drawing attention to the risks they could face around water, especially if they’ve never taken swimming lessons.
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of injury-related deaths among children ages 1-4 years old, with three kids dying every day in the United States from it. It’s the second-leading cause of death for children under the age of 14.
“What we find at the USA Swimming Foundation is that if a parent doesn’t know how to swim, there is only a 19 percent chance that that child will actually learn to swim,” Hesse said. “So what we’re trying to do is overcome barriers to entry to learn to swim.”
The Make a Splash Tour has traveled around the country over the past decade, bringing highly decorated American swimmers to different cities every summer to help spread awareness about the problem.
Five Olympic gold medalists — Missy Franklin, Simone Manuel, Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines — are expected to attend this week’s tour stop in New York and share their passion for swimming with kids.
New York is the first of four cities the tour will host events in this summer. The other stops are at Memphis on May 29, San Diego on June 3 and Corpus Christi, Texas, on June 5.
Hesse said the plan is to keep the tour going for the foreseeable future to continue teaching parents and children that swimming is a life lesson they should know.
“Our goal is to host 1,000 (tour stops) and to be able to do it with an amazing partner (in Phillips 66) because this message has to continue to get out there. Every generation of parents needs to be educated,” Hesse said.
“I think as we’ve learned that if a parent learns to swim, there is also a high probability that their kids will learn to swim - so it creates a generational change. We can change future generations by teaching a child to swim.”
The Make a Splash Tour coincides with the #GogglesOn, a social media and fundraising campaign that the USA Swimming Foundation started earlier this month and is continuing throughout the summer.
As with the tour, #GogglesOn is intended to help educate children and their families on the importance of water safety and drowning prevention. People are encouraged to take photographs of themselves with swimming goggles and use the hashtag #GogglesOn to show their support for the Mark a Splash initiative and tour.
“Really our goal for the USA Swimming Foundation and our Make a Splash initiative is to reduce drownings in this country, teach kids to swim and teach them to be safer around the water,” Hesse said. “Someone needs to step up and handle this problem, and that’s what I see the USA Swimming Foundation is doing with our Make a Splash initiative.”
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.