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Don’t wait till summer for swim lessons, new campaign urges

Phillips 66 and the USA Swimming Foundation revised their annual water-safety campaign for 2020 to offer an urgent reminder: Swim lessons aren't just for the summer.

Their two-week Saving Lives is Always in Season campaign takes the place of their national Make a Splash Tour presented by Phillips 66, which since 2009 has made 53 stops and helped more than 10 million kids learn to swim. Make a Splash, which usually kicks off during the summer months, was put on hold this year when COVID-19 forced the closure of pools across the country.

"The pandemic picked up steam during the peak months for enrollment in swim lessons," said Phillips 66 Manager of Social Impact Claudia Kreisle. "Our Saving Lives is Always in Season campaign with the USA Swimming Foundation is meant to return attention to an incredibly important public health issue."

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4 in the U.S., with the statistics particularly dire in underserved communities.

Water-safety advocates have cautioned that the particular circumstances of 2020 — with children missing swim lessons due to pool closures and having more time unsupervised as parents are forced to navigate working from home and child care — are a dangerous mix. And a number of news headlines since the pandemic began are already indicating a concerning rise in child drowning deaths, including in both Texas and Florida, the two states with historically higher drowning rates.

One way to prevent drownings: swim lessons. Research has shown that teaching a child to swim can reduce the drowning risk by 88%.

“Learn-to-swim programs teach essential lifesaving skills that should be available year-round,” said Rowdy Gaines, three-time Olympic gold medalist and Director of Community Engagement at USA Swimming. “These programs help keep kids safe in and around the water.”

To kick off the virtual campaign on Oct. 14, Gaines moderated a panel discussion with Phillips 66 Corporate Sponsorship Analyst Sara Hayes and Olympians Elizabeth Beisel, Missy Franklin and Cullen Jones. All of the participants noted the importance of having children in swim lessons all year round. Beisel, a three-time Olympian from Rhode Island, said that if parents wait until next summer to get their kids in lessons, they're starting too late.

“(Children) need months of learning before they are ready to be on the beach and be comfortable around water,” said Beisel. “It does really start right now.”