“What people don’t realize is that it’s not hard to learn and you can start very early in life,” said Shawn Slevin, co-founder and president of the Swim Strong Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps teach youth how to swim.
Slevin said her interest in swimming came as a child, taking lessons and having the opportunity to share the sport with others. Swimming competitively in the Helen Coyne program at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Woodside, Slevin said she was asked to stay on as a coach at age 14.
The Swim Strong Foundation later developed out of that program, according to Slevin, and was incorporated in 2006.
Statistics show that drowning is the second most common cause of death in the world behind car crashes, and African-American children 5 to 14 are three times as likely to drown than white children, according to a 2005 Centers for Disease Control study.
“The statistics were very shocking to me, and I knew I had to do something about it,” Slevin said.
The foundation uses a variety of programs to help new swimmers get in the water, such as “Get Ready, Get Wet,” a 30-minute introduction to the pool that helps children get accustomed to the water. Slevin said with this class children learn to breathe properly in the water.
The “Learn to Swim” program offers swimmers who are comfortable with the water, but have not had any lessons or training, the chance to get formal swimming experience.
For Swim Strong Foundation coach Richard Bohack, a native of Queens, he recommends the program for his children and anyone who wants to get a head start on learning to be a competitive swimmer.
“My daughter Natasha joined a few years ago and she loves it,” said Bohack, who explained that she now views swimming as something as common as breathing and eating.
Slevin stresses the importance of teaching competitive swimming to youth as an option for fitness and life skills. “Statistics show that children who are competitive swimmers learn team work, self-discipline and resiliency,” she said.
Slevin also said that swimming is the most cardio-pulmonary and skeletal friendly exercise. “As we get older, we need to have less pounding on our joints, and being in the water is supportive for that,” she said.
Since fall of 2009, Slevin proudly admits that the Swim Strong Foundation has provided 1,658 swimming lessons with 437 scholarships to young swimmers. “That’s over 1,600 students who have become water safe and gained better swimming skills,” Slevin said.
Slevin also said that 12 children have joined community-based swim teams; 18 have joined U.S. swim clubs; 23 have become certified lifeguards; two have passed the swim requirement to enlist in the Coast Guard; and one enlisted to become a commercial diver.
Classes are offered to children 3 and up. Children 3 to 5 must have a parent present with them in the water. Each program is $15 per half hour.
For more information about other programs offered, locations or to register, contact Slevin at Shawn.Slevin@theswimstrongfoundation.org