Amanda Beard competed in the Olympic Games four times in swimming, so she knows a little something about being in the water.
And she’s using her love of the water to educate others – reaching out to the community about the urgent need to teach swimming and aquatic safety.
Now the seven-time Olympic medalist (two gold, four silver and one bronze medal) lives in Gig Harbor with her husband and two kids and dedicates her time to her swim school, Beard Swim Co. She also serves on the board of the Hope Floats Foundation, which makes swim lessons available to children around the country whose families can’t afford to pay. (And, of course, she’s looking forward to the Summer Olympics, which are starting in Tokyo on July 23.)
She’s the co-author of the 2012 book In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir, a New York Times best-seller that chronicles her years as a competitive swimmer; at age 14, she became the second-youngest Olympic medal winner in swimming.
Clearly, she started swimming quite young, and she wants to get more children into pools – not necessarily to strive for medals, but to learn to enjoy the water and understand how to stay safe around it.
“Our approach is we want kids to learn how to swim, and we want them to love it. I feel like if you want something good and if you want something done right, you have to nurture it and build a proper foundation for it,” says Beard.
“I think it’s something that you have to be consistent with. And teach the kids how to respect the water and the environment that they’re in when they’re around water, and just love it.”
Learning respect for water is certainly needed in Washington, where the accidental drowning rate is above the national average, according to the Washington State Department of Health. An average of 17 children and teens die each year in the state, according to data from the Washington State Drowning Prevention Network and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Another sobering statistic: Nationally, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under 5.
For parents, promoting water safety means starting kids off in the water young.
“The sooner the better is usually how you want to do it with the kiddos because they start to develop fear, and they get really nervous and the older that they get, it gets a little bit harder for them to learn how to swim,” says Beard.
“We start our lessons at six months.”
At her school and elsewhere, there are lessons available for all ages. Group and private lessons are available all around Washington, at private facilities and at community pools that have already reopened.
Private lessons are especially important if a child is frightened or uncomfortable in water, and swim-lesson scholarships are made available to families in financial need.
One group that’s making lessons available to kids of all income levels is the Hope Floats Foundation. Beard now serves on its board of directors, helping to get out the message that swimming lessons are vitally important for water safety – and can even have benefits to kids that extend beyond ability to handle the water, such as more advanced motor development and cognitive skills, she says.
“Everyone needs [swim lessons], so we don’t want anyone to be locked out of that just because they can’t financially afford it,” Beard says.
Water safety tips
“Taking part in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ten CDC tips to help families stay safe in the water this summer:
• “Supervise when in and around water.” Avoid distracting activities, such as looking at a phone, “even if lifeguards are present.”
• “Use the buddy system. Always swim with a buddy.”
• “Learn to swim.” Swim lessons can protect young kids from drowning, but remember to carefully supervise all kids, even those who can swim.
• Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
• Life jackets can cut boating risks. “Potentially, half of all boating deaths might be prevented with the use of life jackets,” according to the CDC.
• Remember: “Air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices.”
• “Avoid alcohol. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.”
• “If you or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools.”
• “Don’t let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time.”
• “Know the local weather conditions and the forecast before swimming or boating.”
Published June 23, 2021