Swim Strong Event Teaches Water Safety

p Swim Strong Foundation intern Emily Tavcar, seated holding paper, leads a presentation during the fourth annual Water Safety Awareness Day at the Brooklyn Sports Club on May 14. (Photo: Jim Mancari)
Swim Strong Foundation intern Emily Tavcar, seated holding paper, leads a presentation during the fourth annual Water Safety Awareness Day at the Brooklyn Sports Club on May 14. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

While all sports aid in the development of the body, mind and soul, swimming is the only sport that can directly save lives.

To recognize May as National Water Safety Awareness Month, the local Swim Strong Foundation hosted its fourth annual Water Safety Awareness Day on May 14.

Sessions at the Brooklyn Sports Club in East New York and Far Rockaway H.S. helped the foundation ring in the summer season in full force.

The nonprofit organization, founded by former St. Sebastian’s, Woodside, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) swim coach Shawn Slevin, has set out to save lives through the sport of swimming.

The foundation’s mission is fourfold: reduce drowning, stress healthy living through swimming, offer life skills through competitive swimming and promote swimming as the root for 32 other water-based sports.

The event itself featured free community swim lessons given by expert volunteer instructors, demonstrations of CPR techniques by the FDNY, health/nutrition workshops and important water safety tips – all of which are necessary skills to know here in a city surrounded by water.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 10 people drown in the U.S. every day, and other than birth defects, drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4. Swimming lessons could reduce childhood drowning by 88 percent, and of overall drownings that do occur, 95 percent are preventable.

“It’s about spreading the education, and also to understand for yourself common sense and good judgment; that’s the trifecta,” Slevin said. “If you have that, you’re going to be safe.

“We want them to enjoy themselves, but first and foremost, we want them to be safe. Lives should not be lost when they don’t have to be.”

All it takes is two minutes and two inches of water to drown, so instilling water safety habits into children at a young age is part of Swim Strong’s focus.

“The young kids that were just learning, we stressed water safety,” said Kirsten Merker-Volpe, a Swim Strong volunteer who is a former CYO swim coach for FLUKES, a combined team from Holy Family, Flushing, and St. Luke’s, Whitestone. “We want them to be comfortable in the water. If they panic, that’s not good. When they’re near the water, the kids have to know how to be safe near the water.”

During the event, Emily Tavcar, an intern with the foundation, led a presentation of important summer safety awareness tips. Tavcar was a CYO swimmer for LIAM, a combined team of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village; Incarnation, Queens Village; and American Martyrs, Bayside.

“This is beach season,” she said. “Everyone’s out; everyone’s surrounded by water, so it’s really important that we get this information out to prepare. Everyone wants to have a wonderful summer. We don’t want any tragedies happening.”

With that in mind, the timing of the event allowed Swim Strong to stay true to its main principle: Knowing how to swim saves lives.

“Really we all should be swimming for our lives,” Slevin said. “It’s the only activity that we do from womb to tomb.”

For more information on the Swim Strong Foundation, visit

Contact Jim Mancari via email at

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