OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A local swim program teams up with a World Champion swimmer and the Boys and Girls Club to teach children how to be safe in and around water. This, as cities in the Kansas City metro are struggling to hire lifeguards.
Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones encourages kids to learn how to swim. He said every child needs to learn. Their life depends on it.
With two Gold medals around his neck, this World Champ said swimming is not only a great sport, but a life-saving skill.
“How many of you like being in the water? Hands fly up,” Jones said. “And then I ask the next question, how many of you have had swim lessons? And then you see hands start to see hands drop. And that’s the true number of people that we need to save.”
Goldfish Swim School of Kansas City has a location in Overland Park and Lenexa. They’ve committed to provide $35,000 in free swim classes to kids in the Boys and Girls Club.
At least 75 students each year will get four months of free lessons.
Co-Owner Josh Bitterman said kids as young as two should learn the basics of water safety.
“If they were to fall, the ability to roll over and float on their back until help arrives to them,” Bitterman said. “If they were to fall in off a dock or may off the ledge of a pool, that reflex reaction to maybe turn around and grab the safety point of exit so they can pull themselves up and out of the water. We want to see that they master those basic skills.”
In a lifeguard shortage, he said the importance of swim lessons is heightened.
Overland Park is preparing to open all four outdoor pools May 28, and they need 15-25 lifeguards.
“We’re thinking what may need to happen is a shift in hours, or some slides, or specific pools may not be able to open, if we’re not fully staffed,” City of Overland Park Communications Manager Meg Ralph said, “but we’re at a pretty good spot with most of the pools.”
Longview Lake also needs lifeguards — hoping to have enough to open their facilities for Memorial Day weekend.
Even with Lifeguards and proper supervision, Jones knows firsthand drownings can happen.
He was 5 years old at a water park and went under water. He had to be resuscitated. That’s another reason why he coaches swim lessons.
He has a message to parents:
“Do not send your child to a pool expecting a lifeguard to watch 500 kids. There is one thing you can do,” Jones said. “You wouldn’t allow your child to be in a car without a safety belt or to be on a football field without safety lessons. Don’t allow them to be in a pool without safety lessons.”