Prince George’s County Council member Sydney Harrison’s district in the area called “South County” leads the majority-Black jurisdiction with the highest number of cardiovascular diseases.
One way to decrease that illness, he says: swimming.
“It’s a really good stress reliever,” Harrison said before he swam several laps at the Southern Area Aquatics and Recreation Complex in Brandywine. “Swimming doesn’t put a lot of pressure on your joints. It builds up your lung capacity and your heart rate. It’s the best form of exercise.”
Swimming advocates say the sport helps children and parents become confident in the water where they can have fun and learn water safety. But tragedies still happen, especially when the weather becomes warmer.
The USA Swimming Foundation notes about 19 children drown annually during the July 4 holiday.
Rockville-based USA Pools of Maryland offers safety tips at https://usapoolsmd.com/water-safety while emphasizing “parents supervise, lifeguards save lives.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights Blacks remain nearly six times as likely to drown versus whites. That’s why Dominique Banks established the Accokeek Stroke Technique Swim Team.
“I developed the Accokeek swim club for the purpose of teaching minority children how to swim,” said Banks, a former head coach at Oxon Hill High School that won division championships in 2017 and 2018. “We are not one of those swim teams that say if you can’t swim at a certain age, we can’t take you. This is a life sport.”
Swimming and passion define part of Banks’ life as her two youngest children hold memberships on swim teams while her oldest daughter works as a lifeguard.
According to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, salaries for lifeguards start at $15 an hour and can increase based on experience to more than $17 hourly.
Some of the swimmers Banks coached work or have worked as lifeguards. JoMarie Tablang has risen through the aquatic ranks since her first job as a lifeguard in 2008. She advanced to become a swim instructor, pool manager and senior pool manager before her current position as an aquatics manager in Brandywine which she’s maintained for the past five years.
Across the aquatics industry, she said one challenge continues to be recruiting lifeguards.
Some of the qualifications include a person swimming 300 meters, treading water for two minutes and retrieving a 10-pound brick from the bottom of a pool.
Prince George’s Park and Planning and the Red Cross offer water safety and certification classes that allow individuals to become experts in first-aid, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and other life-saving measures.
“There are not as many lifeguards as we would like there to be. It’s a struggle, especially in a county like Prince George’s where we don’t have a lot of swimmers. It’s not as prevalent as basketball,” Tablang said. “But being around water can provide so many opportunities like chemistry in knowing water temperature, building teamwork and learning the business of recreation. It’s a wealth of knowledge that can be achieved.”