Most records broken at D.C.’s Banneker Pool involve swim meets. But on Friday morning, it was a different sort of record.
It took about a dozen people to slide a 18-by-11 foot kickboard into the water. It was a truly sink or swim moment; never before had it been placed in a pool.
The board is about 400 pounds of Styrofoam and 13.5 times the size of a normal kickboard. It was certified as the largest ever by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The giant kickboard – commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation – is the star attraction of the organization’s Make A Splash tour. It kicked off in D.C. Friday, encouraging children to learn to swim.
At the event, Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines told the crowd, “We did find the cure to drowning – believe it or not – and it's two simple words: it is ‘swim lessons.’”
USA Swimming Foundation executive director Debbie Hesse said, “Teaching kids to swim is just as important as putting your child in a car seat.”
Tour ambassadors include Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin.
“Our favorite part of this whole thing is getting in the water with the kids,” Franklin said.
At age 5, Cullen Jones said he nearly drowned at a waterpark. But he then went on to become one of the best swimmers in the world.
At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Cullen, Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale and Jason Lezak seized the world record in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
“It is our job to make sure that we change [kids’] perception of this water. It is a life skill,” Jones said. “And we want them to leave a positive, positive outlook on swimming.”
The foundation’s efforts seem to be working.
“I like it because it's a kind of sport thing and you get big muscles when you grow up with it,” said 7-year old Matthew Rich, one of the children taking part in the Olympic athletes’ swim lesson.
Another ambassador is World Junior Swimming silver medalist and Sports Illustrated 2015 SportsKid of the Year, Reece Whitley. His mom Kim Smith-Whitley grew up in D.C. and actually learned to swim at the Banneker Pool.
“Yeah, this was an important part of my life growing up,” Smith-Whitley said.
She sent her son to a sports camp at age 6. And when he failed a swimming test there, she signed him up for swimming lessons.
Now, an 18-year old, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound athlete is considered a rising star for Team USA swimming.
With partner organizations like D.C. Parks and Rec, the Swimming Foundation over 10 years has provided more than six million children free or reduced cost swim lessons. This year, its goal is to reach one million more kids.