It was something of a chance meeting that brought John Cruzat into aquatics. In 2006, Cruzat was vice president of programs at Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo. When USA Swimming partnered with that nonprofit agency, Cruzat was recruited to address the longstanding, documented racial divide in the sport.
Since then, he’s begun making significant inroads, building diversity and changing the face of aquatics, literally.
“It was a whole new world that opened up,” he says. “I was a swimmer, a lifeguard and a swim instructor, and
I had no idea that I could make a living influencing the sport this way.”
Since joining USA Swimming, Cruzat says his role has been to implement a major strategic shift in the organization’s efforts to reach minorities.
“So much has happened in the last three years in how we approach our ‘Build, Promote, Achieve’ philosophy,” he notes.
In that time, the agency has established a large number of new partnerships and outreach efforts in several urban centers, with the goal of providing swimming opportunities and water safety education. USA Swimming itself also is more diverse, with a number of key staff positions now held by an increasingly ethnically diverse team.
But Cruzat and USA Swimming are thinking beyond the confines of the organization. The goal is to create change in all aspects of aquatics. To that end, Cruzat (along with Marketing Director Manny Banks) also was instrumental in coordinating a University of Memphis study, which came up with the same findings as an earlier series in Aquatics International: Minority children are three times as likely to drown as white children. The study also found that 60 percent of African-American and Hispanic children simply could not swim.
Cruzat also is a key player in expanding the influence of the USA Swimming Foundation, the fund-raising arm of USA Swimming. That group is a critical component in bringing USA Swimming’s diversity efforts to the wider aquatics community.
What has enabled Cruzat to accomplish so much in such a short time? He credits USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus.
“Our executive director has been wanting to do this for about a decade,” Cruzat says. “The environment for change was ideal. When you have a leader and culture that lends itself to change, it was just a matter of me showing up.”