To celebrate National Inspirational Role Models Month, we’d like to introduce you to someone who has been, and continues to be, a tremendous role model in the sport of swimming.
As a four-time Olympic medalist - including 2 golds! - and the first African American to hold a world record in the sport of swimming, we’re inspired by the strides Cullen Jones has made for diversity and inclusion in the swimming community, and we couldn’t be more proud to o-fish-ally welcome him to our Goldfish Family as we work together to create positive change around the conversation of water safety for all!
WHY WATER SAFETY & DROWNING PREVENTION DESERVES MORE ATTENTION
Sadly, drowning remains the number one cause of injury-related death among children ages 1-4, taking the lives of three children in the United States every day—a statistic that has disproportionately impacted families of color. According to the CDC, Black children drown in swimming pools at rates 5x higher than other children, and studies have indicated more than 60% of African American children cannot swim. Together, we hope to change that!
THE “WHY” BEHIND CULLEN’S PERSONAL PASSION FOR WATER SAFETY
Having nearly drowned while visiting an amusement park with his family at the age of five, Cullen has felt the impact of these statistics first hand. It was at that point his parents enrolled him in swim lessons, and his love of the sport developed.
From learning to swim, to becoming an Olympian, to championing water safety and drowning prevention, Cullen has made it his life mission to bring greater awareness to the importance of all children learning to swim, as lessons have been shown to reduce the risk of childhood drowning by 88%.
As a newer parent himself, Cullen’s passion for water safety only continues to strengthen. He and his wife, Rupi, welcomed their son Ayvn into the world in 2019. Since then, Ayvn has already developed a love of the water, taking swim lessons at Goldfish Swim School.
“I believe things come full circle, and my life is the epitome of that,” he told us. “You know, to be honest, I never put out the ‘I’m retiring’ social media post. I never felt my work in swimming was done. I’ve committed to a lifetime of community advocacy and set out on a mission to help people understand the importance of learning to swim. I could not have found a better swim school partner with which to align. I’ve personally seen the impact Goldfish Swim School makes in children’s lives. My son is a Goldfish swimmer, and I am proud to call myself a Goldfish Dad! While my time competing in the pool may be finished, my work is far from done. I have been working in the learn-to-swim space for 12 years, and by teaming up with Goldfish Swim School, we will create a powerful force that will make big waves in water safety awareness!”
PARTNERING TOGETHER TO MAKE WAVES FOR WATER SAFETY
We could not be more excited about the opportunity to partner with Cullen, as he has long felt like a member of our Goldfish Family. It’s through our shared connection to the USA Swimming Foundation, where Cullen serves as an ambassador and board member, that we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the tremendous impact Cullen has made through his efforts to support our shared mission of helping children learn to be safer in and around water.
We’re always in search of new ways to better not just the communities we serve, but every community—which is why we joined forces with the USA Swimming Foundation in 2018 to provide swim lessons and water safety education to underserved communities across the country. We've committed to raising $1 million dollars to support their learn-to-swim grant initiatives, and to date, we are proud to say that our contributions have provided learn-to-swim opportunities to over 10,000 children who otherwise might not have had access to lessons.
Earlier this year, Cullen came aboard to support our latest USA Swimming Foundation fundraiser – ‘Safer Swimmer Pledge’ – which reached over 400 million people with the message of prioritizing water safety and drowning prevention.
GET TO KNOW CULLEN BETTER!
To help our Goldfish Family get to know Cullen even better, we asked him to share a few fun facts about himself. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What’s your favorite memory from your competitive swimming days?
A: Earning a world record in 2008, and being able to hold that for so long has definitely been amazing, along with being on that winning relay team when most people weren’t expecting us to win!
Q: What’s your favorite pre-race snack?
A: Trail mix! It’s the easiest thing; you get the protein, but there’s also chocolate in there, so it’s kind of like dessert, too. So right before a race, it’s always light on the stomach but just enough to get me to the wall fast.
Q: What "fin-spiration" do you have for aspiring young swimmers?
A: Stick with it! There are going to be moments where you might hit a plateau. It might get a little hard, but you have to stick with it. I know from experience, the end result tends to work out pretty well. Keep with it, keep having fun and keep splashing!
Q: Who was YOUR biggest inspiration growing up?
A: My biggest inspiration is definitely my parents. I definitely looked up to Michael Jordan - he’s a great athlete - but my parents were my biggest inspiration. They always pushed me to be better and wanted me to strive for the stars. And that’s what I can only ask for in my son.
Q: If you weren’t a swimmer, what other sport could you see yourself doing?
A: If I wasn’t a swimmer, I’d probably be a basketball player. I played basketball until I was about 15 and then I had to decide which sport I really wanted to focus on. Swimming won—that’s what I wanted to do, and I loved it. I think it was a good decision.
Q: What’s your favorite part about being a Goldfish Dad?
A: My favorite thing about being a Goldfish Dad is watching my son do things for the first time. He actually just moved up a level! There won’t be daddy-and-me classes for him anymore, but that’s good because that’s progress and it means he’s becoming more comfortable around the water, and that’s what it’s all about.
Q: What’s one water safety tip you’d like others to know?
A: Just as important as it is to be safe in the water, it’s equally important to be able to get out of the water safely. So for every little swimmer (or big swimmer) my tip is: Use the fin-fin-belly-flipper technique Goldfish teaches during lessons so you can get out of the pool safely if you were to accidentally fall in.
Earlier this year, we also sat down with Cullen to learn how he got into the sport of swimming and how he’s continuing to make strides for inclusivity in the sport of swimming through his work with the USA Swimming Foundation. Listen to the full interview here!
We could not be more honored to have Cullen by our side as we push the boundaries of innovation to highlight the importance of swim lessons for all children. This exciting new chapter in our relationship is another step in the right direction as we work together with our team of ambassadors, including World Champion Swimmer and Olympian Ryan Murphy and Dr. Molly, the official pediatrician of Goldfish Swim School, to make even bigger waves for water safety.
Follow along with Cullen on Instagram, where he continues to make strides for water safety and celebrate his son Ayvn's progress toward becoming a safe and confident swimmer as he goes for GOLDfish!
To learn more about our work with The USA Swimming Foundation, or how you can give a child in your life the gift of swim lessons and water safety, contact your local Goldfish Swim School.