Photos: Howard University, Olympic Swimmer Host Swim Clinic

WASHINGTON — Kids as young as 6 years old sat on the edge of the big, indoor pool and splashed their feet in the water. Their instructors — members of the Howard University Swim Team and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority — teamed with USA Swimming to provide the Saturday swim clinic for children to stress the importance of learning to swim.

“Did you guys know that 70 percent of African-American children don’t know how to swim and 60 percent of Hispanic children don’t know how to swim?” U.S. Olympic Swimming medalist Maritza McClendon asked the crowd gathered at Howard’s indoor Burr Pool.

McClendon is the first female African-American swimmer to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She won a silver medal as part of the 400 free relay team at the 2004 Athens Games. Through a partnership with USA Swimming and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, McClendon is devoting her time to advancing swimming skills among children of color.

“It’s really about learning basic water safety skills, being comfortable in the water, learning how to float, knowing how to blow bubbles,” McClendon told the kids.

Howard University Swimming and Diving Coach Nicholas Askew shepherded the kids by age groups and led them to the pool where his teams achieved banner success this season, shattering 13 school swimming records.

“What makes that really outstanding for us is that seven of those were relay records. That lets us know that the entire program is improving because it’s not resting on the shoulders of one or two swimmers,” Askew said.

The coach said any child can learn to swim.

“Nothing is impossible,” Askew said. “Swimming is a life skill.”

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