Swimming study: 70 percent of African-American children can't sw - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Swimming study: 70 percent of African-American children can't swim

(WMC-TV) - The Olympics have many people thinking about getting back in the pool and perhaps taking swimming lessons for the first time.

A study reveals African-Americans drown at three times the rate of Caucasians.

Some of the reasons for this may surprise you.

Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones says he was one of those statistics. He nearly drowned when he was 5 years old. He will soon be making a visit to Memphis to give Mid-South children a water wake-up call.

"In 2008, when two African-American adolescent boys drowned on the same day, different pools it was horrific," said University of Memphis Professor Carol Irwin.

From that tragic day came Make A Splash Mid-South, a community-wide effort to give more children the opportunity to learn to swim.

It also initiated a first time study on minority swimming conducted by the University of Memphis and the USA Swimming organization.

"We found that African-Americans have either no swim ability or low swim ability at about 70 percent," said Irwin.

That compares to 40 percent of white children.

The study shows that many African-Americans do not know how to swim because of the costs of swimming lessons, access to the pools, and the fact that many African-American women do not want to get their hair wet.

But the overwhelming reason was a fear of drowning passed down through generations.

"You know we got into the reasons why but then we said, ‘Okay, what do we do? What is the solution?'" said Irwin.

Introducing children to water as early as possible is a main objective. Irwin would like to see water counseling in programs such as WIC:Women Infant and Children.

"Teach them to blow bubbles in the bath tub so they get used to having their face in the water.

Make A Splash Mid-south is breaking water barriers. The organization won a video competition that will bring Olympic athlete Cullen Jones to Memphis this fall.

Irwin hopes the competitions will inspire families to swim.

The University of Memphis plans to hold a reception for Jones when he visits in September. Make A Splash students will have the opportunity to train and swim with star athlete.

Read the full study by clicking here.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

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