Olympian helps bring swimming lessons to north Minneapolis

He's made a name for himself in the pool and now, Olympian Cullen Jones is using his talents to teach African American families here in the metro how to swim.

Jones, along with V3 Sports, hosted around 300 people at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center Sunday for a free swim clinic.

“When I see children of color learning to do something new—going under water, blowing bubbles, taking their first stroke--I see barriers being broken,” said Jones. 

Minnesota has the highest drowning rate in the country among African Americans. On top of that, in the predominantly African American neighborhood of north Minneapolis there are no indoor pools.

“You can obviously see there’s a huge demand for it,” said founder of V3 Sports, Erika Binger. “And no resources to teach them in.”

V3 Sports, a Minneapolis organization that introduces under privileged youth to triathlons, plans to open the first public indoor pool on the Northside. Binger says they have purchased the old Muscle Bound Bindery building on the corner of Lyndale and Plymouth Avenues but they still need to raise around $40 million to build it.

“It really is a generational thing of, ‘I don’t know how to swim and I don’t bring them to the pool because I don’t want anything to do with the water,’” said Althelgra Williams.

Williams brought her 10-year-old daughter Kaya to the free clinic, and while she’s had several swim lessons, she says accessibility is a huge issue for most.   

“The only pools we have in north Minneapolis are outdoor pools that are only open for a very limited season,” she said.

Jones said he took three buses to get to swim lessons when he was a kid. He grew up in a low-income neighborhood outside New York City. It wasn’t until a near fatal drowning when he was five-years-old that his mother put him in swim lessons.

Jones now spends his free time traveling the country teaching under privileged youth how to swim.

“The key to changing the drowning rates that we see isn’t always accessibility as much as exposure,” he says. “It’s a life skill—learn how to swim.”