Friday, March 18, 2011

NY Daily News: Swim Strong Foundation co-founder Shawn Slevin helps kids learn to swim

by Clem Richardson -- Daily News Staff Writer

Monday, March 07, 2011

The statistics read like some deadly math problem.

Nearly 60% of African-American children living in urban areas can't swim, according to a 2005 USA Swimming survey.

Add that to the fact that drowning ranks second - behind car crashes - as the leading cause of accidental death for children 14 and younger and the results are predictable.

African-American children 5 to 14 years old are three times as likely to drown than white children, according to a 2005 Centers for Disease Control study.

More than 3,400 people drown in the United States each year. Many of those who survive near drownings suffer permanent brain damage.

"The crime in all of this is that drowning is preventable," said Swim Strong Foundation co-founder and president Shawn Slevin. "I ask people why and you get a lot of different answers. I go scuba diving in Caribbean and a lot of people in the islands don't swim."

Closer to home, Slevin notes that in Far Rockaway, Queens, "there are hundreds of thousands of families that live within walking distance of the ocean and so many of them don't swim. How can you have that opportunity and not avail yourself of it?"

Swim Strong aims not just to teach children to swim, but how to swim competitively, Slevin said. "The thing is, once people get in the water, they regret waiting that long."

The foundation has a variety of programs aimed at enticing nonswimmers into the water, including "Get Ready, Get Wet," a 30-minute introduction to swimming for children who have never been in the water.

"They learn how to put their face in the water, how to breathe out of their noses and take air in through their mouths and just how to get long in the water," Slevin said.

The "getting long" idea comes from Slevin's swimming background. "I teach a competitive technique, not social swimming," she said. "It is about effective and efficient movement through the water. So children who get our training can go on to competitive programs."

Beginners learn basic freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly, diving and flip turns.

About 100 students are currently enrolled in the year-round program; about the same number are expected to enroll for a 10-week program that starts March 26 and for summer activities at the three Swim Strong sites: Flushing Meadows Pool in Corona, Queens; Far Rockaway High School and Saint Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. The programs cost $15 a half hour.

"It [enrollment] tends to drop off in the fall, maybe because summer is over," Slevin said. "But swimming is a year-round activity, the best womb-to-tomb sport."

Swim Strong was developed out of the swimming program Helen Coyne coached at St. Sebastian's Catholic Church in Woodside, Queens.

Slevin swam competitively in that program; then, when she aged out at 14, was persuaded by Coyne to stay on as a coach.

Slevin incorporated the program in 2006.

The New York Chamber of Commerce nominated Slevin as one of its 2011 "Inspiring Women" candidates. The winner will be named at ceremonies at Madison Square Garden on July 27.

For more information, see the website,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Being Prepared and Trained Saves Lives

During the downwind leg of the third race, competitor Russell Dunleavy collapsed in brisk conditions of about 15-17 knots. His sailing partner Chris Gill, who was aware that Russell has a heart condition, immediately called for a chase boat which arrived quickly just after another Ideal sailed by Betsy Sorenson came along side. Betsy is a registered nurse who along with Chris commenced CPR.

Russell has had a heart condition for some time and carries nitro pills. Russell was unresponsive and was transferred to the chase boat and brought to Fayerweather Yacht Club (Bridgeport, CT) where he was further treated (defribbed, etc) and transferred to an ambulance to Bridgeport Hospital. The committee boat had called 911 and an ambulance was waiting at the dock.

Russell has made it thus far. He had four complete blockages hit while on the water. The doctors have said everybody's efforts saved him, and were certain that if his heart hadn’t been massaged the whole way back into the dock he wouldn't have made it. Apparently one of the blockages was opened by compressing him. He is now being stabilized for quadruple bypass surgery.

This reinforces that we can't predict things out there. Here were some of the discussion items following the incident:

- Anyone sailing that carries medication that may be required should make it aware to your sailing partner and make its location known to them. Fortunately, Chris knew this which helped him immediately realize the seriousness of the situation.

- Having two people on a chase boat was critical in saving Russell. Having a nurse on the water was vital too.

- Encouraging CPR certification within racing fleets.

- Carrying onboard horns or whistles might be needed to expedite initial assistance in stronger winds or larger race courses.

If not for the efforts by Chris Gill and Betsy Sorenson, and Charlie Gulotta and Greg Wykoff on the chase boat, this day of frostbiting could have turned out much worse.

Thanks to Cliff Crowley and Bill Sandberg for helping with this story.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt