Leading by example, Tara Eggleston is on her way to becoming a key player in efforts to reduce drownings and improve water safety among minority communities.

Eggleston, 34, grew up in Prince George’s County, Md. Today, working for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, she oversees a number of pools, including the one where she learned to swim as a child. 

Eggleston attended Howard University and graduated in 1999 with a degree in communications. In 2006 she received a master’s degree from New York University in sports business: marketing and media.

Her intention was success in the corporate world, and her work experience includes positions with Gap Inc. and the National Basketball Association. Ultimately she decided she would find greater professional fulfillment in a job where she could directly impact her community. It was her passion for swimming brought her back to aquatics and today she serves as as countywide aquatics coordinator and an assistant parks division chief.

“I always loved [aquatics],” Eggleston says. As a high school student, she participated in a school swim club and worked as a lifeguard.

The fact that Eggleston is African-American makes her interest in aquatics all too uncommon. The need to change that really hit home for her in 2010 when she read some startling drowning statistics. University of Memphis research, supported by USA Swimming, showed drastic racial disparities in swimming ability and drowning rates. African-American and Hispanic children have less swimming ability than white kids and are three times more likely to drown.

“If we don’t start to address it, we’re going to see more drownings,” Eggleston warns. “We need to continue to reinforce that this is an issue in our industry.”

To that end, she is sharing programming and messaging strategies that have been successful for her organization. She contributes a regular column to Aquatics International and speaks frequently at industry events.

Eggleston believes change comes down to educating the public and community leaders about the need to reach underserved communities, and creating environments where people of all backgrounds feel represented. That means addressing various cultural issues and hiring as diverse a staff as possible.

“There are strategies and tools to engage [minorities]; you just have to not be afraid to take action,” she says.