More than 300 third, fourth and fifth graders sat on the gymnasium floor and awaited water safety tips from four distinguished guests: three-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel, three-time Olympic gold medalist and the voice of swimming Rowdy Gaines, USA Swimming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Leland Brown III and, of course, lifeguard at the local Roxana Community Park District pool Makenna John.
John’s connection to the Tour goes beyond her first-hand experience with the importance of water safety; she also attended the 2014 Tour stop in Roxana as an elementary school student.
“I remember I got to meet (Tony Ervin) and that was just super cool,” John recalled of her experience. “There was a good group of kids there and to be in the water with an Olympic swimmer was really special.”
The Tour, which dates back more than 15 years, takes decorated athletes to local communities and utilizes speaking engagements and in-water programming to help prevent drowning. Nearly 4 out of 5 children in families with household income less than $50,000 have no or low swimming ability. Stressing the importance of water safety through people like John and USA Swimming Foundation ambassadors can help with this issue.
“Water safety is so important,” John said. “Being confident around the water can go a long way.”
Her family grew up around water and she has a lineage of lifeguards in the family – going as far to say it’s a bit of a “lifeguard legacy” with all her cousins having taken on the role and responsibility.
John’s journey from Tour attendee to lifeguard to Tour presenter is a testament to her determination and dedication to water safety and her community.
“This was a super cool experience,” she said of being able to be a part of this year’s Tour. “It’s kind of a full-circle moment – I was here 10 years ago and now I’m here 10 years later. It was awesome; (Gaines and Beisel) are both so kind and it gave me an even better understanding of water safety.”
The presentation at Central Intermediate School, and at school visits in Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana as part of the 2023 Tour, focused on four talking points:
- Learn to swim
- Bring an adult and swim near a lifeguard
- Bring a friend
- “Reach or Throw, Never Go”
- If you see someone in danger in the water, try to help them by reaching from land or throwing a flotation item to them, as opposed to going into the water to help them.
For John’s efforts and impact in her community, she was one of 47 individuals nationwide to be selected for the Phillips 66 Boys and Girls Club Award, earning her an annual scholarship as she gets ready to head off to college. The recipients of the scholarships are also guaranteed an interview for an internship with Phillips 66 if they meet the minimum grade-point average (GPA) requirements and are interested in a relevant field.
USA Swimming, the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 extend their gratitude to Makenna for her efforts.
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