An unintended tumble into a swimming pool or lake doesn’t have to end in disaster. Even babies can learn instinctively to save themselves in the water.
At the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, which opens Monday at the Jewish Community Center of Austin, instructors teach students as young as a few months old to flip onto their backs and float, then kick to the edge of the pool without panicking. Older, more skilled swimmers perfect their strokes, earning color-coded swim caps as they progress through the seven-level learn-to-swim program.
The Austin location is the ninth for the school founded by Krayzelburg, an Olympic backstroker.
“We start with those infant steps and fundamentals of proper body position that allow you to be safe,” Krayzelburg said by phone from New York. “From there, we build on to introducing strokes.”
Krayzelburg, who was born in Ukraine but immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 14, won three gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics. After retiring from competition, he wanted to share the best gift he could think of — the lifelong skill of swimming. In 2005, he opened his first swim school in Los Angeles with four instructors and fewer than 100 students.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with kids,” Krayzelburg said. “To be able to parlay my success as an Olympic athlete and do this, where we’re able to give back and impact thousands of kids, it’s a win-win situation.”
It’s also a vital skill. The leading cause of death for children younger than 4 is drowning.
Former University of Texas swimmer, triathlete and swim coach Andrea Fisher will head the Austin chapter.
Budding swimmers of all ages and skill levels can start at any point in the year-round program. They will get a book, stickers and ribbons to track their progress along the way.
Unlike most learn-to-swim programs, these lessons won’t end when summer winds down. They’ll continue year-round, because kids who don’t get in the pool for nine months after their first lessons tend to forget much of what they learned, Krayzelburg said.
His program includes a survival test, in which children are tossed into the water fully clothed and use their floating skills to demonstrate that they can save themselves. It’s something that comes naturally to most infants, he says. They’re not afraid of the water and learn instinctively to float, breathe and gather themselves.
Ultimately, Krayzelburg hopes they develop the same love of swimming he has long held. Years after his competitive days, he still enjoys slicing through the water. He also knows the health benefits that come from swimming.
“(Swimming) gives me time to relax and think,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re in the flow of things, you can hear the water going by your ears. That feeling that you’re getting an overall body workout is wonderful.”
Lessons begin Monday at the Dell Jewish Community Campus, 7300 Hart Lane. Students can start lessons at any time, at any level. The program is open to kids of all ages. Program hours are 3-6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. To schedule an evaluation, call the JCC Membership Desk at 735-8000. For more information about the swim academy go to www.shalomaustin.org/lksa.