John Cruzat has been hired to fix one of the most intractable problems in aquatics: how to diversify aquatics and lower minority drowning rates. But the way Cruzat sees it, his job is much simpler. “I’m the kind of the guy who connects the dots,” says the 43-year-old diversity specialist for USA Swimming, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Cruzat has shown that connecting those dots can lead to powerful change. After serving in the army for 21 years, he dedicated the past five years toward bringing opportunities to minority communities via the Urban League affiliate in Colorado Springs. That led to a new program in diversity training. So when USA Swimming started looking for someone to head up its own diversity program, Cruzat was a natural choice.
He loves the momentum. “The timing and synergy around all our initiatives have been unreal,” he says about his work at Urban League, coupled with USA Swimming’s push to diversify. His main goal: to diversify swimming and thereby decrease the number of minority drownings, which an Aquatics International investigation revealed is three times higher than nonminority rates.
In addition to bringing swimming to African-American and Hispanic or Latino children, he’s encouraging local businesses to bring resources to Native Americans, who have the highest drowning rates. He believes the initiatives he’s putting forward will change minority attitudes toward learning to swim. “It’s going to happen because we met a community need,” he says.
To meet that need, Cruzat is working on two fronts. The first is the local pool, where the program aims to teach low-income and minority children how to swim by providing them the outlet and the facilities to do so. Leading minority athletes like Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones serve as role models to keep the kids in the water. The second is at the competitive level, where Cruzat seeks to diversify swimmers on national teams. “Teaching kids to swim and exposing them to the swim cultures is what’s going to get us there,” he says.
As part of his “connect the dots” approach, he’s reaching out to several resources and organizations around the country. Among them are the NAACP, National Council of La Raza (the Hispanic equivalent of the Urban League), YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and political figures who are trying to get federal funding. Cruzat wants to pull together statistics and empirical data to support the initiatives and rally more support. He believes that one day, “parents will have no choice but to get their kids involved.”