Joel’s Journey

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Joel’s Journey

Photo by Maël BALLAND from Pexels

Hello, my name is Joel Zombre and I am originally from Burkina Faso, West Africa.  I moved to the Unites States in 2010 to further my education. 5 years later in 2015 after graduating from college I decided to join the US NAVY.   Little did I know that there is a swim qualification that I had to pass in order to graduate from Bootcamp. I remember the first day I walked into the recruiting office in Manhattan to inquire about joining. I was able to answer “yes” to all the questions except: Can you swim?

I was always afraid of water when I was a kid so when I went to the pool with my friends back home I would just sit and dangle my feet in the water while watching them play. When I answered “no” to that question, my recruiter said: “no worries there is a not for profit foundation called Swim Strong, here in NY which can help you”.   He gave me a business card that read Shawn Slevin. I made the phone call right afterward.  Today I am proud to say that this phone call made my career in the navy possible. Shawn was so nice on the phone,  she sent me the information via email on how to register for a location near my house and choose a schedule that worked for me.

My first day was a Sunday and I remember like it was yesterday. I showed up at the lower east side location for my first lesson. Like I said I have never swum before so when I saw the pool it was a nerve racking experience.  Shawn introduced me to the instructors and gave me a swim cap. I proceed with my first lesson where the instructor thought me how to be comfortable within the water, then little by little she thought me breathing techniques and how to move through the water with comfort and  confidence.

I had only 30 days left before going to Bootcamp,  I was concerned I would not have the skills I needed to pass the swim test.  Coach Shawn offered the opportunity for me to go to as many lessons as I could each week at no further cost.   I focused on freestyle and back stroke.

It quickly became time for me to go to the Great Lakes, for Bootcamp. On my first day for the swim test I had butterflies in my stomach again but when I hit the water I quickly remembered what my instructor taught me: breath nice and easy, nice and easy. I sang that until I was done. I was able to pass and went on to graduate.  8 people from my division were sent home because they could not pass the swim test and I know for a fact that I would have been part of that group if it were not for Swim Strong Foundation.

Today I am a Petty Officer in the Navy Reserves. As a Logistics Specialist I went on short term assignment in Guam, Hawaii and Japan.

I recommend Swim Strong to anyone who wants to learn how to swim or wants to send their children to learn how to swim. In my opinion swimming is a valuable skill that we all need. It can help avoid drowning which is the second leading cause of death among young children. Statistics shows that 70% of African American children don’t know how to swim. Swimming is also a sport that helps you stay sane and it works all your of your body’s muscles.

Thank you to Swim Strong Foundation.

 Feel free to contact me at: for more information about my journey.

Joel Z. Photo From LinkedIn

Photo of Joel Z.

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