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There must be something in the water.
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Abi Weaver
August 4, 2008

Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center, a provider of American Red Cross aquatics programs, has helped train at least one Summer Games athlete every year since 1968, including three-time gold medalist Brooke Bennett of Plant City, Florida. The most recent to train at Brandon is diver Chris Colwill, who was selected to represent the United States in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, beginning this week.

Chris, who is recently graduated from the University of Georgia but was raised near Tampa, first stepped onto a spring board to receive training from Brandon’s legendary coach Joe Greenwell at five-years-old. By 9, he had won national and international championships.

While Chris has since trained with the best coaches and traveled the world to hone his skills, receiving an invitation to the Summer Games would not have been possible if he hadn’t received basic swimming lessons as a child.

Since 1914, the American Red Cross has offered Learn to Swim classes throughout the country at community swimming pools, public beaches, summer camps, fitness centers and recreation facilities. With the help of trained Red Cross water safety instructors nearly 2 million children learn to swim each year.

“Swim lessons provide young kids with the knowledge and ability to be safe in and around water and encourage them to enjoy a lifetime sport,” says Peter Banks, Brandon’s director of sports development and head coach, who guided the careers of Bennett and 2004 silver medalist Maritza Correia. “Swim lessons are where Olympic dreams begin.”

This August, a new generation swimmers, who are just now learning to tread water, will watch on television as Chris competes on the world’s largest sports stage, hoping someday to achieve his level of skill. His success, as well as regular visits from other Olympians that have trained at Brandon, serve as inspiration for the children and their families.

"Those guys practice really hard so I will practice hard too,” asserted 11-year-old Emily Rice, who is currently learning how to refine her strokes in an American Red Cross Learn to Swim Level 5 class.  "I can't wait to watch the Olympics,” added 10-year-old Emily Rife, who trains as a synchronized swimmer in Tampa. “I know the girls who swim are perfect, but I hope to be in (the Summer Games) one day.”

Right now, an American Red Cross water safety instructor could be teaching a future gold medalist how to perform the freestyle with a flip turn or the safety of a back float, said Andrea Trout, aquatics manager with the American Red Cross of Tampa Bay Chapter. 

In addition to helping kids explore opportunities in aquatics, such as competitive swimming, lifeguarding and coaching, American Red Cross Learn to Swim courses help people of all ages develop confidence in the water and skills that can be used to excel in a sport, obtain a job, prevent a drowning and avoid injuries.

 "Swimming lessons are a gift that last a lifetime; children learn invaluable skills that promote health and fitness, goal setting and lifesaving skills to protect them in, on and around the water,"  said Trout.

This fall, the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter will train approximately 800 public school teachers to provide water safety education in the classroom, ensuring 193,000 children learn basic skills, such the importance of wearing a life jacket and safe ways to rescue a swimmer in trouble.

For more information, visit the Swimming & Lifeguarding section on www.redcross.org or contact your local chapter for a list of authorized providers, offering Red Cross aquatics programs.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.

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