Step Into Swim aims to reduce drownings and promote water wellness to people of all ages
One million. That’s how many children the National Swimming Pool Foundation hopes will be joyfully splashing around in the water by 2022 after they take free lessons through its learn-to-swim program.
Step Into Swim, which was created in 2012, is part of the Colorado-based education/research nonprofit’s decade-long initiative to reduce drownings and promote water wellness to people of all ages.
“Swimming benefits health in many important ways, improving everything from cardiovascular and pulmonary health to balance and flexibility and aiding in weight loss,” says Lauren Stack, managing director of the foundation’s residential division. “Yet every day, 10 people die from unintentional drowning, and drowning is the leading cause of death for children who are one to four years old.”
To create strong swimmers for life, the foundation donates to key organizations, including the American Red Cross, YMCAs and JCCs, that teach swimming to underserved populations.
“The idea behind Step Into Swim is to start a generation of swimmers,” says Laura Castanza, director of education for Team Horner Group, a family of companies based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that is focused in different areas within the swimming pool and spa business worldwide.“One million is a modest goal given the non-swimmer deficit of about four billion worldwide, but when one person or child learns to swim, others are inspired to learn. The positive change is exponential.”
Stack notes that when Step Into Swim’s ripple effect on the family, friends and communities of new swimmers is factored in, it’s likely that the program has already impacted hundreds of thousands. The swimming programs of USA Swimming, which the foundation has supported for many years, alone reaches some 300,000 children annually.
“Step Into Swim is an awesome movement because statistics prove that formal swimming lessons can reduce drownings by 88 percent,” Castanza says. “It’s a national program that has a potentially international outreach.”
The National Swimming Pool Foundation encourages the public to get involved in Step Into Swim. Suggestions include donating to local learn-to-swim programs, sponsoring a swim team or lifeguard training, lobbying for physical education in public schools, supporting fitness legislation and providing information to pediatricians and day-care centers.
“The foundation turns over every donated dollar it collects,” says Brian Van Bower, who is the CEO of Aquatic Consultants, a Miami-based firm specializing in upscale pools and waterscape designs, and the president and co-founder of the industry educational company GENESIS. “There are no salaried officers.”
In addition to children, Step Into Swim works with parents and grandparents of drowning victims and nonprofits that have been set up to help survivors cope with these tragedies. “That’s what makes it special,” Castanza says. “It’s not an isolated program; it’s a collaborative program.”
Bower sees Step Into Swim as the key to industry-wide promotion of water wellness.
“Most of the people in the industry didn’t make a conscious decision to be in the industry,” he says. “They learned on the job, and they have had no training in the benefits of water. Learning about the health aspects of swimming and telling the clients about them is only to their benefit because they can use this knowledge as a sales tool, too. The long-range goal is to make people interested in pools and swimming so they will be healthier and buy pools.”
He’s working with Step Into Swim to develop literature for pool industry members and their clients. “We’re soliciting money to teach children how to swim,” he says, adding that some of his pool-buying clients have already sent checks. “I want this to be a banner program for the industry.”
Studies have shown that five is the magic age for children to become water lovers for life, and Bower’s hope is that public schools, inspired by Step Into Swim, will start making swimming lessons a standard part of their curriculum.
“In Europe, particularly in Germany, there are a lot of pools in schools,” he says. “And in Australia as well as Europe, they focus on the health benefits of water, not only on the aesthetic value of splashing in the pool.”
Bower also wants to extend the lessons to seniors. “We should not neglect the older population who are getting to the age where mobility is an issue,” he says. “If nursing homes were equipped with heated pools, it would increase residents’ mobility, improve their circulation, leading to better health and a higher quality of life. Everyone would benefit because medical costs would go down.”
Bower says that Step Into Swim is gaining traction every year and that the goal of 1 million swimmers is only the beginning.
“Our industry has been remiss in this area,” he says. “It owes it to itself and its clients to make itself aware of the benefits of the end-product – water – and to make itself aware of the research delineating the extreme benefits of water.”
Castanza agrees, adding that “the pool and spa and the aquatics industries must unite” to encourage private funding to effect change. “What the foundation is doing is one of the best approaches overall,” she says.
The National Swimming Pool Foundation and Step Into Swim, Bower adds, “are our bright lights.”