Cullen Jones is my Hero. Holder of several world records - countless Gold & Silver medals, NCAA Champ, and 2006 Fastest Swimmer in the World.
His success as a swimmer is near legendary, but what is more impressive is the time and effort he devotes to motivating minority kids to get in the water, and learn to swim. It is estimated that 60% of African American kids cannot swim effectively and have a 300% greater risk of drowning than white kids.
Cullen travels the country, meeting thousands of kids to speak of the importance of learning to swim, and not just for safety, but for the benefits of fitness, friendship and fulfillment that competitive swimming brings to kids.
He's not the first black Olympic swimmer, nor is he the only one competing in the London 2012 games. But he is considered a barrier-breaker. In the documentary film "Parting the Waters", we see first hand that Jones has overcome myths, fears and sterotypes in the world of swimming.View the Trailer for the upcoming film.
Many of these sterotypes and fears still exist, as displayed by Valley Swim Club in 2009, when young black day-campers had their swimming privelages revoked under fear that it would "change the complexion and atmosphere of the club". Jones had this reaction to the situation:
"I work hard everyday through my efforts with the USA Swimming Foundation and Make a Splash to increase the exposure for as well as enhance the number of African-American and Hispanic young people entering the sport of swimming, not just because it's a great sport, but because learning to swim and understanding the importance of being safe in and around the water are life-saving skills that no one should be denied".
Cullen Jones almost became a statistic of drowning himself. At age 5, while visiting a waterpark, young Cullen was pulled to safety unconcious by lifeguards. "I remember what it feels like to be helpless...I was underwater, I couldn't breathe...and then I completely passed out". After that, his parents enrolled him into swim lessons, and as a teenager, Cullen joined the swim team - as the only black swimmer on the team.
Cullen today hears from many young swimmers who express shy frustration about being the only African American or Latino kid on the swim team. This odd feeling, coupled with real cultural insensitvity keeps many kids from considering the sport of swimming - or even of learning to swim. He encourages them to "keep your head up". The percentage of minority kids in swim programs is very low, only around 1%.
Today, Cullen Jones is using his fame and recognition to help children learn to swim. Kids who may not have access to a swimming pool, or children from families whose parents never learned to swim. Working with the USA Swimming Foundation's 'Make A Splash' initiative, which provides low or no cost swim lessons to these kids, Cullen Jones travels the country - encouraging and motivating young kids to learn how to swim.
For Jones, the message is very simple "Teach Kids how to Swim".
Cullen Jones needs your support, and the Make A Splash initiative can use your help - donate today at MakeASplash.org to sponsor a swim lesson for a needy kid. Your tax deductible donation will bring the wonderful world of swimming to kids who would otherwise be at risk for drowning. And who knows...? You may just help create a future generation of Olympic gold medal swimmers!