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Students Raise Money to Fight Childhood Drowning at 'Big Swim Meet'

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TWC News: Students Raise Money to Fight Childhood Drowning at 'Big Swim Meet'
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Hundreds of kids took part in a special swim meet Saturday to raise money for a program that teaches young New Yorkers about water safety. NY1's Mahsa Saeidi filed the following report.

Participants in Asphalt Green's "Waterproofing" classes, a year-long program that teaches public school kids how to swim, were thrilled to be involved.

"It's been an amazing experience for me," said one.

"I thought swimming was really hard before the program here," said another.

"I learned swimming, backstroke and breaststroke," said a third.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate childhood drowning in a city surrounded by water.

"Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 12, so it's an epidemic in our country that we need to do something about," said three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines.

Asphalt Green and Gaines have been doing something about it since 1994, teaching more than 30,000 city kids water safety. Many are from low-income neighborhoods.

On Saturday, they held a swim meet and fundraising event to keep the momentum going.

An exhibition by Olympians, synchronized swimmers, and a dancing Shecky the Shark delighted the packed house as swimmers age six to 12 took part in an authentic race.

Instructors said when the kids first come here, some are even afraid of shallow waters, but by the end, they can swim across deep waters no problem.

"Takes a couple lessons, but you see a lot of progress from kids," said swim instructor Nestor Bejarano.

Bejarano has been teaching kids how to swim here for six years.

He showed NY1 the proper technique, explaining that you need to stay relaxed, breathe, then reach and pull the water all the way across.

"What you want to see in a kid is basically, long arms," he said.

Although the program is mainly geared for second-grade students, Gaines said it's never too late to become at one with the water.

"I didn't start swimming until I was 17," he said. "I was a junior in high school."

With a head start like this, bringing home the gold is a definite possibility.

For more information about the initiative and Saturday's event, visit asphaltgreen.org.

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