- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

The District is hoping to cannonball its way toward better health.

D.C. swimming pools will be free to all city residents until at least Sept. 30, 2006, thanks to a $200,000 donation from Kaiser Permanente.

Officials expect hundreds more children and seniors will dive into the water, but the bigger story may be the partnership starting between the insurance company and a city with significant health problems.

“We wanted to find an area that needed help,” said Dr. Philip Carney, president of Kaiser Permanente’s Mid-Atlantic region.

He said the insurance giant hopes for a seven- to 10-year partnership with the District.

Surrounded by beaming, pint-sized swimmers, Dr. Carney and other Kaiser officials presented a check to Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday at the Francis Swimming Pool in Northwest.

It is one of 26 outdoor and six indoor pools the city runs.

The children giggled as Mr. Williams, in long-sleeve shirt and bow tie, joked that he was not going to perform his trademark cannonball jump into the pool, which he does at the start of the summer. Minutes later, things got more serious. Dr. Carney said the District has the seventh highest rate of overweight high school students.

Nearby, swim coach Rodger McCoy watched closely.

“Swimming is good for seniors … it’s good for kids, it’s good for everyone,” he said.

Mr. McCoy, 30, estimates half of the children on the city’s youth swim team are asthmatic, and he thinks swimming has nearly erased their asthma attacks.

While it may help make District residents more active, the news of free pool admission could be as much public relations as it is policy change.

Kaiser officials said the majority of their donation will go to fix a broken filtration system at Banneker Pool near Howard University, a repair costing about $155,000.

In addition, the District already offers free admission to all but seven pools. Officials estimate half of the pools are in low-income areas. Those are precisely the areas where the city and Kaiser hope to change both habits and health.

“We’re making headway,” Mr. Williams said, “it’s all of us working together to make headway.”

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