It happens every June when tens of thousands of people around the world hop into swimming pools at the same moment. Sometimes there are so many arms and legs in the water, it’s almost hard to imagine conducting the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson. But they do — at aquatics facilities, YMCAs, swim schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and waterparks — and a Guinness World Record is set.
Why have people done this for the past three years? It’s not just to break a record, though that is fun. WLSL is meant to draw attention to an important message: By teaching children to swim, it can have a real impact on reducing the drowning rate for those under age 14.
Drowning is the leading cause of unintended, injury-related death for children ages 1 to 5, and the second leading cause of accidental death for children under 14. Research shows that participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among ages 1 to 4. Yet many do not receive such instruction or even water safety training. WLSL organizers are determined to get the word out.
For three consecutive years, WLSL has held the Guinness World Record for the largest simultaneous swim lesson. Last year, there were 24,873 participants representing 15 countries across five continents at approximately 400 host locations.
Organizers are aiming for 30,000 participants when the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson kicks off June 18 at 3 p.m. (GMT). Indeed, to set a Guinness record, they must exceed the previous year’s numbers.
The four top participating states in 2012 were, in this order, Florida, Texas, California and Georgia, said Aleatha Ezra, event coordinator of WLSL, and director of park member development at the World Waterpark Association, based in Kansas City, Mo. She added that there’s also been strong support in Brazil as well as Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries.
The 2012 event generated more than 29 million media impressions (radio, TV, print and social media) in the United States alone. “We think we’re succeeding in getting the word out about the need for swim lessons to reduce injury and drowning among children,” Ezra said.
WLSL was the brainchild of WWA, Ezra explained. It was created to help aquatics facilities and the many national, regional and international water safety organizations work together to communicate the importance of teaching kids to swim.
Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines likely will be the official WLSL spokesman for 2013. Organizers were still finalizing that detail at press time, but as Ezra noted, “Rowdy has been a phenomenal supporter since the beginning.” Last year he did media interviews at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon waterpark, as well as at an aquatics center in New York. Ezra said host facilities often invite local athletes and Olympians to participate in WLSL and speak to media, always trying to promote the need for swim lessons. For more information, visit wlsl.org.