Le-Asia Johnson shot a terrified look at her mother as she was picked up and carried into the swimming pool water. The 3-year-old listened as her swimming instructor — Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones — told her to spread out like a starfish and float in the water.
“Big breath,” he encouraged her. “Big breath. No laughing.”
Of course, that made Le-Asia laugh. He propped up her shoulders, backed off a bit and let her drift. Her mother clapped from the sidelines. Jones carried her back to the edge and sat her down. Le-Asia flashed the thumbs-up.
Le-Asia and eight other children had the chance to learn how to swim from Jones — one of the fastest swimmers in the world.
Jones gave a lesson Tuesday at Oklahoma City Community College as part of a nationwide tour to encourage children to learn to swim and community leaders to give children the chance.
He's working on behalf of Make a Splash, an anti-
When Jones sees scared little faces at the water's edge, he sees himself.
“It's rewarding and it's very humbling,” said Jones, a world record holder in the 4x100 freestyle relay. “I remember I was that kid that was afraid. ... I see myself in all these kids.”
Trauma to triumph
Jones nearly drowned on an amusement park ride when he was 5 years old. But he took lessons and learned to swim, eventually teaching lessons himself as a teenage lifeguard.
“I'm doing something I love,” he said.
Jones said he especially wants to encourage swimming among minorities, who are less likely to know how to swim and more likely to drown.
Le-Asia's older brother, Jervion, 7, was also in the pool with Jones. Their family came from the Dallas area just to take part in the event.
“I learned that you can jump in the water and you can do this,” Jervion said, spinning his arms around like a windmill. “And you can kick your legs like that.”
Jervion said he was scared to swim at first, but that Jones made him excited to learn.
“I was nervous,” he said. “But you've got to learn to conquer your fears.”
That's what Jones hopes more minorities will do. He hopes the rate of black non-swimmers will drop from 70 percent to 50 percent in his lifetime. Encouraging young swimmers through programs like Make a Splash will help, he said.
Jones said he plans to continue to promote swimming to children, even though he's busy training for the London 2012 Olympics. The Olympic rings are tattooed on the inside of his right
“I was in the water this morning before the lesson,” he said, “cracking out the yardage.”
AT A GLANCE
• Teach children to swim.
• Make kids swim with a buddy.
• Teach caution. All bodies of water can be dangerous for children. Also make sure children obey pool rules and never throw others into the water.
• Fence off water features. The pool should be completely fenced off from the home and play area to keep unsupervised children away from danger.
• Require life jackets. Children should wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water even if they know how to swim.
• Learn CPR. Get recertified every two years. CPR can help a child stay alive with little or no brain damage.
• Always provide supervision. Young children should always be supervised around bathtubs, swimming pools and natural bodies of water. Avoid distractions like reading or talking on the phone.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 3,400: Number of people who drown in the United States each year.
• 60-70: Percent of black and Hispanic children who don't know how to swim.
• 3: Times more likely a black child is to drown than a white child.
• 13: Percent of children from non-swimming households who will learn how to swim.