May is National Water Safety Month

May 02, 2019 Posted by SwimRVA

Author: Benjamin Harrell

Warm weather is here at last! Being so close to the James River, it’s no wonder that Richmond brings flocks of locals and tourists alike to its many shores. Safety may not be the first thought about water this season, but the numbers don’t lie:

Did You Know?

• Drowning is the 2nd leading cause of accidental death for kids ages 1-14 years
• 50% of the population doesn’t know how to swim
• 70% of African Americans don’t know how to swim
• Nearly 61% of parents report that their child cannot save their own lives in the water, yet nearly all parents (94%) expect that their children will engage in some sort of water activity this summer

So, what’s holding people back from receiving proper water safety training?

What Happened?

Factors like the after effects of segregation, extreme fear due to lack of education and/or exposure, etc., make up many of the obstacles SwimRVA faces in the effort to Drownproof Richmond.


During segregation, minority communities were barred from using the same facilities as White citizens, including bathrooms, restaurants, and even pools. Many organizations did all they could to exclude Blacks and other People of Color from engaging in the same facilities and activities. One infamous incident shows James Brock pouring muriatic acid on Black swimmers at an integration protest during the Civil Rights Movement.

After businesses and communities integrated as legally mandated, many public locations in Richmond chose to close their doors instead of co-exist as an equal community, leaving few options for Black to swim properly and learn the importance of water safety.

Socio-Economic Discrimination

Swimming was not only excluded along racial lines. Swimming ability has been shown to follow economic trends as well:

The lack of readily available swimmers has also affected Richmond financially. Proper training usually costs hundreds of dollars for hopefuls to even take a lifeguard course. in lifeguards has forced businesses to close pools and aquatic centers for earlier, if they open at all. Undercut business hours has led to decline in revenue from aquatic tourism, which in turn means less funding for lifeguard training and continues the cycle.

What We’re Doing

SwimRVA’s mission is to elevate swimming in the Richmond region making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all. With the help of dedicated volunteers and staff, many lives have been changed through aquatics sport, fitness, and rehabilitation. Some of the programs SwimRVA is involved with include:


One want that SwimRVA works to increase aquatic safety is through the Learn-to-Swim Initiative. The program focuses on providing free swimming lessons to second graders in the Greater Richmond area, providing access to aquatic activities in the future.

Studies show that if a child doesn’t receive proper swim lessons by the third grade, he or she most likely never will. Since 2012, SwimRVA has provided over 6,300 children with 44,000+ free swimming lessons! The goal is to reach every elementary school in Greater Richmond by 2020.

Swim for Life

The Swim for Life Program, now in Carver College & Career Academy and L.C. Bird High School,  works with local high schools to create a curriculum that takes the student from learning to swim to becoming a fully-certified lifeguard. 

Few programs start from the very basics of swimming; most lifeguards were already skilled swimmers prior to applying. 

“If you’ve never had a pool in your neighborhood, never had opportunities to swim, how are you gonna learn how to swim? It doesn’t happen,” explained Ted Quinn, Lifeguard Instructor at SwimRVA.The program is currently piloting at Carver College and Career Academy in Chesterfield, and has been a huge success for both trainers and students. This past year, all 9 of the students passed the CPR/First Aid/AED certification, and one student has passed the Red Cross certification and has been employed as a lifeguard!

What You Can Do

Register for certified swim lessons

Advocate and Volunteer for learn-to-swim programs in local elementary schools

Donate to local aquatic nonprofits in your area

Follow us for the latest! #SwimForIt!

The Mission of SwimRVA is to elevate swimming in the Richmond region making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all. We promise to serve as a catalyst for regional aquatics and community-wide focus on water safety, health and fitness, sports tourism, and competitive aquatics. Donate today to help support our mission

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