Twelve-year-old Vincent had never taken swimming lessons before this summer. His family would go to the community pool, but he never ventured to the deep end because he hadn’t learned to swim. This summer, that changed. Vincent had the opportunity to participate in the Boys & Girls Club of Central Iowa & the Michael Phelps Foundation IM Safe program to learn to be more secure in the water.
“Now I can do the back float AND go to the deep end!” he told me at our final celebration, beaming as his family watched from the deck.
As a former competitive swimmer and lessons instructor, I have seen firsthand how swimming builds a child’s confidence both inside and outside of the pool. It forces you to face your fears and perceived limitations, teaches you to set goals, as well as lead a healthy life. Over the past six weeks, I watched a group of 16 middle school kids, most whom had never taken lessons before, do just that - all because of the IM program.
Since 2010, the Michael Phelps Foundation has partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in efforts “to grow the sport of swimming and encourage a healthy, active lifestyle especially among children.” Today, over 37 Club sites nationwide participate in Phelps’s IM Programs.
With youth drowning rates in ethnically-diverse communities 2-3 times higher than the national average, the IM Safe program aims to provides each participant with the opportunity — and encouragement — to become comfortable, confident, and safe in the water.
When I started as this summer’s Health Fellow at BGCCI, I didn’t plan to teach swimming lessons. My supervisor mentioned the program in passing and, with my experience teaching lessons and my love of the sport, I jumped at the opportunity to help. Every Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks, we headed to a local pool with 16 middle schoolers. Week by week, I watched the kids advance.
By the end of the program, kids who were afraid to put their face in the water to blow bubbles were confidently swimming a quarter of the way down the pool.
At our final celebration, local media outlets came to cover the event as the kids showed off their new skills in the water to their families. During the medal ceremony, I watched as the kids couldn’t stop smiling as they accepted their medals, just like Michael Phelps, for completing the program.
Because of the success of the IM program this summer, I was curious to know if there was a need and interest to expand the program in the future. Of the 227 youth ages nine and up that I surveyed, 46.25% had never taken swimming lessons before. With drowning the 2nd leading cause of death in kids 14 and younger, this number was staggering. More than half of the youth surveyed had an interest in taking swimming lessons at some point, but just hadn't had the opportunity to. The IM programs are a great way to incorporate the mind, body, and soul into BGCCI programming as well as promote safety in the water and introduce youth to the lifelong sport of swimming.