Members of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams gathered Saturday afternoon together to swim. Though this offseason activity is typical for the two teams, their companions were less common: Dozens of elementary school children joined the athletes in the waters of the third-floor practice pool.
Saturday’s gathering marked the eighth edition of Swim New Haven, an annual free-of-charge swimming clinic for local youth. Run primarily by members of the Yale swimming and diving programs, this year the event also included swimming alumni, who volunteered as instructors in the pool.
“For families who may not have the resources to get paid instruction, this event is a way for these children to become acclimated to water, learn how to take care of themselves in the water and enjoy spending time in the pool,” member of the men’s swimming and diving team Derek Kao ’18 said. “We had a lot of instructors come up to teach, so much so that many of the children were getting two-to-one attention during their one-hour lesson.”
Yale swimmer Mackenzie Franklin ’17, who has organized Swim New Haven for the past three years, said this time she had significant help from Matthew Meade ’87, the president of the Yale Swimming and Diving Association.
Meade and Franklin were two of more than 40 instructors, including 10 alumni, individually teaching 33 students in the water. As each child had a different level of experience in the pool, the instructors catered their lessons to students’ needs, Meade said.
This year, Swim New Haven partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven and St. Martin DePorres, a faith-based school that provides tuition-free education for children from low-income families in the New Haven area, to bring those organizations’ children to the event. The event was part of the Yale Day of Service, when alumni across the world participate in a variety of service opportunities.
“Many of these children either do not know how to swim or do not have the resources to pay for swim lessons to improve their basic skills,” women’s swimming and diving captain Michelle Chintanaphol ’17 said. “This event is especially important since drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children in lower-income families.”
According to statistics from the USA Swimming Foundation, swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent in children from one to four years old. Additionally, 70 percent of African-American and 60 percent of Hispanic and Latino children in the United States cannot swim.
Franklin said in addition to providing information on water safety, the event’s goal is to introduce children to the “wonderful” sport of swimming early on. She said she has received both exercise and social benefits from swimming during her life.
Meade’s student, for example, had little experience before jumping in the water on Saturday, but by the end of the hourlong session, he could dive and do flip turns, Meade said. The child’s mother contacted Meade at the end to ask how she could sign her son up for a New Haven swim club.
The event came at no cost to the organizers, Franklin said. In addition, USA Swimming donated multiple items to the event, such as goggles, bag tags and temporary tattoos, through the organization’s Make a Splash foundation.
“Yale, particularly Yale athletics and Yale swimming, has given all of the volunteers in this Day of Service event so much,” Meade said. “It is our hope that by giving back to the New Haven community and sharing our love of the water with New Haven children we will make swimming a fun and safe experience for all of the participants.”
Swim New Haven first started in 2009 by Annie Killian ’11 and Ileana Lucos ’11, who were then both sophomores on the Yale women’s swimming and diving team.