Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines said the cure to the drowning epidemic in the United States is simple.
“It’s swimming lessons,” he said, standing poolside Wednesday afternoon at the Skyview YMCA in North Las Vegas.
Gaines presented a $7,000 grant on behalf of Step Into Swim to local swim programs to help fund water safety initiatives for kids.
Step Into Swim is the philanthropic arm of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance. Gaines is the vice president of partnerships and development for the alliance and helps raise money that goes toward providing free swim lessons to children.
“We really want to get it out there to those underserved communities where the drowning rates are the highest,” Gaines said.
‘You cannot take your eyes off your child’
As he spoke about water safety and the importance of funding swim lessons, several swimmers did laps behind him in the indoor pool.
Gaines said drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 4 or younger and the second-leading cause of death in children ages 5 to 14. In about 80 percent of child drownings, a parent is present, he said.
After the 1984 Olympics, Gaines lived in Las Vegas for two years and coached a local swim team. He said awareness about water safety is especially important in Southern Nevada because of the many pools in the area, as well as Lake Mead.
“You cannot take your eyes off your child when they’re swimming,” Gaines said. “Doesn’t matter whether there’s a lifeguard or not.”
Swimming lessons imperative
YMCA of Southern Nevada partners with Step Into Swim and Paragon Pools of Las Vegas to provide free swimming lessons to children at its four locations in the valley.
Brianna Barber, an executive director with the YMCA, said the check presented Wednesday will go toward the Y’s safety around water program. It includes swim lessons designed specifically for drowning prevention and a train-to-work program that prepares young adults to become lifeguards and swim lesson instructors.
“Learning how to swim is a life-saving skill that everyone should have the ability to do,” Barber said.
The YMCA of Southern Nevada serves about 1,300 swimmers annually in all of its swim lesson programs. In 2022, about 200 kids went through the safety around water program.
Tiffany Aumann’s 5-year-old daughter, Ava, has participated twice in the Y’s safety-around-water swimming lesson program.
“Now more than ever even if your child is going to summer camp or maybe over to a friend’s house there’s pools everywhere, especially here in Southern Nevada,” Aumann said. “So just have that comfort of, OK, even if they do go to a pool, I know that they know the basic skills.”
Taylor Cherry, a senior at Western High School, completed the program to prepare her for the lifeguard certification test. She now works at the Heinrich YMCA in Las Vegas.
It helped her become a better swimmer, and she also learned important skills such as CPR, Cherry said.
“If you’re an indoors person, I recommend doing it because it’ll get you out of the house and you’ll meet a lot of great people,” she said.
Starting in February, the YMCA will offer a swim lesson program for children with special needs. For more information, visit lasvegasymca.org.