He has all the qualities that Madison Avenue advertising executives could ever dream of. Young, handsome, articulate, and a gold medal to boot. Yes Cullen Jones is indeed a man with a bright future, but he was more interested in children than the television cameras and reporters that surrounded him at the IU Natatorium, where he was in town to promote the Make A Splash Campaign he feels so adamantly about.
Sponsored by ConocoPhillips and in conjunction with USA Swimming, Jones is currently visiting cities across America to promote swimming lessons and water safety to children of all ethnic and economic backgrounds.
While he could have simply prepared for the upcoming USA Swimming National Championships this week in Indianapolis by concentrating on his training, he took the time to work with these children, and his reason for such just might surprise you.
At age five, Jones nearly drowned while experiencing a water slide at an amusement park and had to be resuscitated. That incident in his life prompted his parents to enroll him in swimming lessons, which spawned a career that has been nothing short of spectacular. But even with the success he has achieved, he has not lost sight of that near death experience, and as a result, has a passion for what now has become a crusade in terms of educating as many people as possible, especially children, to the importance of learning to swim and understanding water safety procedures.
“I am so fortunate to have had the support and instruction from others who at a young age, gave me the opportunity to swim,” said the polite, yet engaging Jones. “I simply want to share that with others and at the same time raise awareness in terms of how we can prevent tragic circumstances from ever occurring.”
Jones began his mission to educate and train others on May 20 this year in Houston, Texas where he met with community leaders, parents and children to deliver the message that the ability to swim is indeed a life-and-death issue.
While nine people drown each day in the U.S., the rate of drownings in ethnically-diverse areas is two and one half times higher. According to recent studies, nearly six out of 10 African-American and Hispanic children are unable to swim, and those numbers are of grave concern to Jones as he continues his quest nationally to provide resources to as many children as possible.
Emerging on the competitive swimming scene in 2006 at the Pan Pacific Championships, Jones set a record in the 50m Freestyle event. He also participated as a member of the 4×100 Freestyle relay with Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak, and Neil Walker, and in the process established a new world record for that event.
The talented foursome would go on to similar success at the 2007 World Championships, setting the stage for Olympic Gold in 2008 at Beijing. Quite a resume indeed by age 24.
Jones is also extremely modest when asked about being a pioneer of sorts in the sport of swimming and points to those of African-American descent that have proceeded him such as Anthony Ervin and Maritza Correia. While he is the first to achieve Olympic Gold, he insists their contributions to the sport are equally impressive and just as important. As a result he views himself as just another participant in this highly competitive sport.
Jones will continue to campaign on behalf of Make A Splash with upcoming visits to Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, and Los Angeles in hopes of increasing the numbers of children who have access to proper swimming lessons. To date, over 37,000 have benefited from this program, and there are now over 68 providers of free or lost cost water safety instructions as a result of the program. Despite these significant numbers, he sees plenty of opportunities to increase the number of those trained by this program. Many athletes would not take time out of a busy competition schedule to reach out to others in need.
Then again, Cullen Jones is certainly not your ordinary athlete.
Notes: The ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championship finals are Saturday, July 11 at the IU Natatorium.
Tickets are still available to see Jones and other top swimmers compete for a spot on the US team for the World Championships scheduled later this month in Rome.
ConocoPhillips has now been involved in USA Swimming for over 37 years and is the primary sponsor of Make A Splash.
Some of the participants in the Make A Splash Swimming demonstration with Jones were from the Zion Hill Summer Camp located at 1610 E. 19th St.
Hats off to all involved for giving these young children an opportunity to learn from a world-class person who just happens to be a world class athlete as well. We could use a few more like Cullen Jones in the world today and hopefully his reaching out and helping these local youngsters will inspire them to follow in his footsteps as a high character person as well as a swimmer.
Danny Bridges, who was afraid to jump off the diving board as a youngster at the city pool, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.