By Jeremy Rubin
Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin first began learning how to swim at six months old when her mother signed up for a mommy-and-me class at their local YMCA.
“She got me in the water right away, as early as she could,” Franklin said of her mother. “And I’m so grateful that she did that. Because for my whole childhood, I just remember having that confidence around the water.”
However, many public pools nationwide are currently closed and have been so for much, if not all, of the summer due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In May, another five-time Olympic gold medalist, Katie Ledecky ’20, discussed with The Daily how she’s adjusting her own training and Olympic preparation, having been nearly entirely forced out of the water herself.
This October, however, in response to pool closures amid the pandemic, Franklin and the rest of USA Swimming partnered with Phillips 66 to launch the “Saving Lives is Always in Season” campaign.
The campaign hopes to raise awareness for parents and guardians about the importance of swim lessons, which can be taught year-round. The “Saving Lives is Always in Season” website shows users which pools in their areas are open and which currently offer swim lessons.
Currently, the interactive map linked to the website shows the nearest facility to Stanford open is the Los Gatos Swim and Racquet Club. However, the Pool Finder on the site also lists 31 total pools within 10 miles of Stanford’s zip code. Contact information is available for each pool to manually check whether the location is open.
Stanford’s pools are also available to the public at reduced capacity with prior scheduling.
“Ensuring children have access to swim lessons doesn’t disappear when summer ends,” said three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines in a USA Swimming statement about the campaign. “Learn-to-swim programs teach essential life-saving skills that should be available year-round.”
Franklin pointed to the COVID-19 protocols being followed within and around pool facilities, which include wearing swimsuits to the pool to limit locker room use, symptom screenings upon arrival, social distancing, masks outside the pool and face shields in it and frequent cleaning of high volume areas.
“There are pools open now that have incredibly safe protocols and precautions in place to make sure that it’s the safest possible environment for your child,” Franklin said. “And if you have that ability, get them in the water right now because it could potentially save their lives.”
Franklin herself has been teaching at a SwimLabs location for three months, and “there has not been a single moment where I have not felt safe or felt like my clients were not safe,” she said.
According to the USA Swimming statement, COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through properly chlorinated water. Swimming is also considered to be a low contact risk sport by many public health officials, and both indoor and outdoor pools “are doing everything humanly possible to make it a safe environment for you and for your child,” Franklin said.
“Swim lessons reduce drowning rates by 88%,” Franklin said. “There’s still 10 people a day that drown in this country and 25% of them are children. So it’s a solution.”
The campaign is in discussions with state and local policymakers about the importance of reopening and keeping pools open. Access to pools can facilitate both teaching children how to swim and also providing people the opportunity to receive lifeguard certifications critical to protecting pools and beaches moving forward.
“There is so much happening in our world today,” Franklin said. “But we just can’t afford to lose that conversation about swim lessons and how important they are.”