South Bay News

Olympian teaching free swim lesson in SJ

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Knowing how to swim could earn you a gold medal one day or it could save your life -- that's the message behind a Bay Area visit from an athlete with five Olympic medals and a world record.

Watching Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones warm up in the pool, there's one thing about him you might never guess.

"When I was 5 years old I almost drowned," he said.

Jones -- the first African American man to set a world record in swimming -- came from a family that didn't swim. And when he fell overboard on a water ride, he didn't know how to come up for air.

"The lifeguards had to come in, pull me out, completely resuscitate me, and when I woke up, my parents, my mom got me into swim lessons within a week," Jones said.

Those swim lessons that eventually led him to Olympic gold. Now Jones is paying it forward by teaching young kids to swim as part of his "Make A Splash" program.

What happened to Jones as a kid is startlingly common, especially for children of color.

"It's a huge problem; 70 percent of African Americans don't know how to swim and nearly 60 percent of Hispanic children don't know how to swim," Jones said.

Drowning, he says, is the second leading cause of death for kids under 14 -- a statistic he's now set out to change, one child at a time.

"He is so patient, so giving, the kids really respond to him, and that's important because you don't' want this to be a lecture," Phillips 66 spokesperson Ric Sweeney said.

Team sponsor Phillips 66 is taking Jones on a national tour to give free swim lessons, including a class at San Jose's Fair Swim Center from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Jones' message has obviously rung true with parents in San Jose. They've already filled up pre-registration for the Saturday morning swim class he's leading. But if you didn't get a spot, he says don't worry, just bring your kids down here and they'll try to squeeze them in anyway.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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