Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones visited Washington on Tuesday to urge Capitol Hill lawmakers and others to help reduce the number of childhood drownings, particularly among blacks, who are roughly three times more likely to die in such accidents.
The mission is close to the heart for Mr. Jones, a black man who nearly drowned at a water park when he was 5. He went on to set a world record in the 50-meter freestyle event and win a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games as part of the United States' 4x100-meter freestyle relay team that featured Michael Phelps.
"Seems like in every city, I arrive to news of a drowning," said Mr. Jones about his six-city "Make a Splash With Cullen Jones" tour, sponsored by the USA Swimming Foundation and ConocoPhillips. "The only way to change that is swim lessons."
His visit to Washington was no exception. A 6-year-old girl drowned June 23 at a city pool, even while her parents and lifeguards were present.
"It hardens my heart," said the 26-year-old Mr. Jones, who plans later this afternoon to visit that pool to give swimming lessons.
Drowning is the cause in 30 percent of accidental deaths among children 4 and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though drowning rates have declined, the drowning rate for black children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that for white children of the same ages, the agency said.
Mr. Jones' cause already has received helped from New Jersey Rep. Albio Sires, who with five other Democratic congressmen from his state are trying to get $400,000 in federal money for free swimming lessons for 4,500 New Jersey children.
Mr. Sires said he got involved after reading a newspaper story about childhood drownings.
"Cullen came to my office, and I thought to myself, 'What a great young man and how helping with this cause would be terrific,'" he said.
Mr. Jones said his ultimate goal is to help provide free swimming lessons across the country. "But with this economy, it's tough to figure out how," he said.
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