Several dozen children filled the outdoor pool at Cor Fitness Center last week, but this morning dip was more than a midweek pool party.
They were there as part of the Katelyn Foundation's participation in the World's Largest Swimming Lesson, an annual international event to build awareness about the importance of teaching children to swim. Water parks, pools and other aquatic facilities around the world host the same swim lesson simultaneously at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record.
The World's Largest Swimming Lesson was started in 2010 by a coalition of water safety and training organizations, with Team USA Olympic gold medal winners Rowdy Gaines and Janet Evans serving as spokespersons.
Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children under 14, and Florida leads the nation in child drownings.
The event stresses the importance of teaching children to swim.
That also is the mission of the Katelyn Foundation, a local organization started by Sandra Testo-Michaud in memory of her daughter Katelyn Michaud, who drowned at the age of 2 in the family's backyard pool in 2004. The organization provides swimming lessons for hundreds of children each year.
Much of the funding for these lessons comes from Katelyn's Kloset, 2329 Seven Springs Blvd., New Port Richey, a consignment store that buys and sells used clothing, toys and other items.
Last year, 19,000 children took part in the World's Largest Swimming Lesson. The goal each year is to increase the number of children taking part.
While the world record attempt adds a level of excitement, Testo-Michaud is more interested in the lesson.
"The main focus is for them to have fun and to learn that swimming lessons save lives," she said. "My focus is to have fun and for these kids to go home and tell their parents what they've learned about the safety precautions around water."
Several parents came along, with a few of them getting in the water, too. Cris Beeson chose to stay dry as he encouraged and coached his daughter Triniti Beeson, 5, and stepson Nicholas Gonzalez, 8.
"Who doesn't want to get in the Guinness book of records?" Beeson said, adding that the lesson itself was worth taking part.
"They're both pretty good in the water," he said, but at their ages, there's still plenty to learn. "The more information, the better."
In order to qualify as part of the world record attempt, the lesson started promptly at 11 a.m. The 30-minute lesson covered swimming basics: kicking, paddling, proper breathing and proper safety practices.
The children and their parents will have to wait to see if they were joined by enough swimmers around the world to claim a new record. Paperwork will need to be filed by June 27. But they all had a day at the pool, along with more knowledge that will make future swims safer and more fun.
To find out more about the Katelyn Foundation and the swimming lessons, visit www.katelynfoundation.org.