A Swim Spa Fundraiser to Promote Water Safety
Coach André Fights the Disproportionate Rate of Drowning in the Black Community
The statistics are alarming – about 10 Americans drown every day, and the average is closer to 11 if you include boating-related drownings.* Coach André Morton is doing something about it, and he's inviting his entire community to participate.
"The Swim-Spa-a-Thon is a fundraiser so that I can teach at least 100 children and adults who can't swim," he says. "Those lessons will be free, so we're trying to get people involved in the community."
Coach André was directly inspired by the 2020 quarantine to launch an event with individual, socially distanced swimming and other aquatic exercise. "COVID shut us down, but it didn't shut us out," he says, "so the Swim-Spa-a-Thon is a pivot move."
How the Swim-Spa-a-Thon Works
The longtime swimming coach has made arrangements with three Cleveland-area businesses with swim spa floor models available for test swims. Two of those locations – Ohio Pools & Spas dealerships in Mayfield and Akron – offer Endless Pools® Fitness Systems to swim, run on the Underwater Treadmill, or take a spin on the Aquabike.
Area participants can register online for a half-hour slot in an area swim spa. "If you have family [or] friends that are willing to donate to you as a cause, you can build a community team. The more money we raise, the more people we can reach to start the [swimming] lessons.
"We've been blessed to work with Amanda at Ohio Pools definitely supporting our vision and helping us move forward. We're loving it," he says. "This is just going to help us continue to fulfill that mission that we're on, so even though we may not have access to a full pool, you can do the same things in a swim spa," Coach André enthuses.
"There's definitely enough room [in a swim spa] to teach and learn that lifesaving skill as well as aerobics and running. They are so multifunctional; if you have the money, it's a great investment."
A Life of Aquatic Service
"I learned how to swim at the YMCA," Coach André recalls. Even as a kid, "I would always help out my family members [with swimming lessons]. I always had a knack for teaching." He founded his current swim coaching business, Rhythm and Stroke LLC, in 2014.
"To help people overcome that fear level first," Coach André started the Do it Afraid (DIA) program. Over 10 sessions, he instills "a good base of water safety knowledge – just being comfortable in the water – so you would have a good foundation to learn to swim."
DIA was created "for those who can't really afford lessons. I received a grant from USA Swimming. My wife wrote the grant so we could teach lessons for kids. For the years when we didn't have the USA Swimming grant, we would fundraise for people who couldn't afford lessons – especially in the African American community.
"Right now, it stands at about 64 percent of African Americans that can't swim. It's 45 percent of Hispanics and 40 percent of Caucasians." He finds these numbers** particularly troubling because "a lot of people go and want to have fun [in the water] but don't have the awareness."
Of himself and the coaches that he knows, he says, "We're all out here fighting the good fight, but the numbers are still just staggering. We're definitely emphasizing that with the Swim-Spa-a-Thon."
Staying Active in Trying Times
"If you have the opportunity to get a swim spa or utilize a swim spa, it's great. We're encouraging the community as well as swim teams. Their participation in the swim spa, it's going to help save a life; its teaching them that philanthropic skill, giving to a great cause.
"We're encouraging everybody to learn to swim. Once you've got that skill, you've got it for life. One of the beauties of learning to swim is being in the water. It doesn’t matter what your limitation is: The water is where it's at. You can maintain good health mentally, spiritually, and physically in the water.
"The planet we live on is majority water!" he observes. "You better know how to handle yourself if you get into a situation in the water.
"There's still the negative stereotype that black people can't swim. That comes from outside, and that is something that we reinforce upon ourselves – that it's not cool to learn. I'm here to say, 'It is cool, and it’s a lifesaving skill that you need to know.'"
Training with Endless Pools
Coach André has had the opportunity to coach a triathlete using an Endless Pools swim spa. "I like coaching in the swim spa. You're close, but you can keep the social distance, and the person can feel comfortable."
Training with the Endless Pools current, he finds, "adds another dynamic to the training. The fundamental skills you can get, the survival skills, and the swimming skills in the swim spa – As long as you have those foundational skills, you'll be able to handle the deep water when you get to it."
He's also gotten to work with other Endless Pools aquatic exercise equipment. "People love the treadmill. The Aquabike, that kicks people's butts for sure; that's a great workout. You can do a lot in that small space. It's water you can stand up in, but it's still deep enough that you can get a great workout in.
"I'd love to work with a group of kids. The space is small enough that you can keep control of them. They won't get away from you like they can in the pool."
For those who can, Coach André recommends a swim spa as an investment in your family's health and wellbeing. "If you can't go to your local pool because of COVID, and you don’t have the same access, if you have the time and money to invest, this is a great opportunity to keep your workouts going at home. It’s a win-win for everybody."
To the Swim-Spa-a-Thon's supporters, he says, "You're going to get a great workout. You're going to do something to enhance your health for that 30 minutes. And if you're donating, your helping to save a life."
For now, the Swim-Spa-a-Thon will benefit Cleveland-area swimmers. Going forward, Coach André hopes to expand it beyond just his own coaching practice. "It’s a local thing, but drown prevention is a global thing."
* Centers for Disease Control, Water-Related Injuries Fact Sheet, updated October 7, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html
** Irwin CC, Pharr JR, Irwin RL, Layne TE. Youth Swimming Ability and Associated Factors in the United States, 2010-17. Am J Health Behav. 2018 Sep 1;42(5):32-42. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.42.5.3. PMID: 30688639. Cited at https://www.ymca.net/summer-buzz/highest-risk-for-drowning