Rear View Of Children Jumping Into Outdoor Swimming Pool

First Friday Message


I’m a proud child of the 70s. Like most 70s babies, I have endless picture albums of the years that shaped me, and, in most of those pictures, my mother’s eye for bell-bottom pants, leisure suits, and all things polyester and pastel continue to remind me why I was so happy to start buying my own clothes once I turned 12.

Looking back through those pictures recently, I ran across a picture of me on my Big Wheel. For those who aren’t aware, the Big Wheel was the mandatory rite of passage before big kid bikes. It was yellow, blue, and red, made mostly of hard plastic…and built for speed! 

I always wanted to be on that Big Wheel. Between the Big Wheel and the bags of green army men that I would stage around our apartment in my imaginary war reenactments, I was happy and didn’t feel like I was missing out on much until I saw some of the older kids with the Maserati of Big Wheels – the Green Machine. Now, I don’t have time to tell you how amazingly cool the Green Machine was, but suffice to say it was like a Big Wheel with a HEMI engine and oversized exhaust pipes. 

I had the pleasure recently to sit with a friend and long-time supporter of the Y and recount my childhood in Washington, D.C. We didn’t go into detail about my beloved Big Wheel, but I did share how my childhood left me wanting for very little and, surprisingly to my friend, how access to a pool wasn’t introduced to me until I was almost 10 years old. 

We didn’t have a pool in the apartment complex where I grew up and, obviously, the nation’s capital doesn’t have the overwhelming number of waterways that we enjoy here. So it wasn’t until we moved to Virginia that my mother enrolled me in my first swim lesson at a local rec center. I was 9 or 10 years old and I remember the instructor’s directions to the small group of us non-swimmers at one of those first lessons while we stood near the deep section of the pool: 

“Jump in, relax, and you’ll float back to the top.”

I think you can imagine how that went. 

So, here I am now, sharing my dirty secret with a “few” of my First Friday friends. I didn’t learn how to swim then and I can’t swim now. It’s not one of the things I’m particularly proud of given my role and the ease of access I have to pools. 
I bring this story up today to remind us all that access matters. In Florida, we take for granted that the abundance of public and private pools is a natural indicator of access to those pools.

For many, finances, or the lack thereof, create a barrier to access. And, unfortunately, we all see the stories far too often of young children falling victim to avoidable aquatic tragedies. 

I was reminded recently by a long-time friend that we are made to do HARD things. Our creator fashioned us in a way that we are hard-wired to overcome obstacles and better ourselves and our communities. Sixty years ago, JFK gave one of the more powerful speeches to this effect stating, "We do these thingsnot because theyare easy, but because they are hard".

I’ve asked a new Orlando friend of mine (who also cannot swim) to join me in doing something hard…learning to swim as a young man of 50+ years. To be clear, access is no longer the issue for either of us. I think he would agree that we’re both blessed beyond measure. But I know, he knows, and I’m sure all of you know that there are many kids in our community who are not so blessed and who continue to lack the access we might take for granted. 

I hope you will join with the Y, if you haven’t done so already, in helping us to remove the barriers. You can learn more about our Safety Around Water and learn-to-swim programs HERE.  And if you see me splashing around in one of our pools, just know that I’m working on a 40-year goal of mine and I can overcome this because I’m made to do HARD things. 

Until next time...

Kevin Bolding, President & CEO
YMCA of Central Florida

The Y. For a better us.®