Drowning: Second Leading Cause of Accidental Death for Children 14 and Younger

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Drowning: Second Leading Cause of Accidental Death for Children 14 and Younger

Nearly 60% of African-American children living in urban areas can’t swim, according to a 2005 USA Swimming survey.

The statistics read like some deadly math problem.

Add that to the fact that drowning ranks second – behind car crashes – as the leading cause of accidental death for children 14 and younger and the results are predictable.

African-American children 5 to 14 years old are three times as likely to drown than white children, according to a 2005 Centers for Disease Control study.

More than 3,400 people drown in the United States each year. Many of those who survive near drownings suffer permanent brain damage.

“The crime in all of this is that drowning is preventable,” said Swim Strong Foundation co-founder and president Shawn Slevin. “I ask people why and you get a lot of different answers. I go scuba diving in Caribbean and a lot of people in the islands don’t swim.”

Closer to home, Slevin notes that in Far Rockaway, Queens, “there are hundreds of thousands of families that live within walking distance of the ocean and so many of them don’t swim. How can you have that opportunity and not avail yourself of it?”

Swim Strong aims not just to teach children to swim, but how to swim competitively, Slevin said. “The thing is, once people get in the water, they regret waiting that long.”

The foundation has a variety of programs aimed at enticing non-swimmers into the water, including “Get Ready, Get Wet,” a 30-minute introduction to swimming for children who have never been in the water.

“They learn how to put their face in the water, how to breathe out of their noses and take air in through their mouths and just how to get long in the water,” Slevin said.

The “getting long” idea comes from Slevin’s swimming background. “I teach a competitive technique, not social swimming,” she said. “It is about effective and efficient movement through the water. So children who get our training can go on to competitive programs.”

Beginners learn basic freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly, diving and flip turns.

About 100 students are currently enrolled in the year-round program; about the same number are expected to enroll for a 10-week program that starts March 26 and for summer activities at the three Swim Strong sites: Flushing Meadows Pool in Corona, Queens; Far Rockaway High School and Saint Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. The programs cost $15 a half hour.

“It [enrollment] tends to drop off in the fall, maybe because summer is over,” Slevin said. “But swimming is a year-round activity, the best womb-to-tomb sport.”

Swim Strong was developed out of the swimming program Helen Coyne coached at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Woodside, Queens. Slevin swam competitively in that program; then, when she aged out at 14, was persuaded by Coyne to stay on as a coach. Slevin incorporated the program in 2006.

The New York Chamber of Commerce nominated Slevin as one of its 2011 “Inspiring Women” candidates. The winner will be named at ceremonies at Madison Square Garden on July 27.

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