Opportunity to Promote Swimming among African-American Children

Just concluded 2016 Olympics at Rio had many memorable moments that included the retirement of the most decorated Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, and the emergence of Katie Ledecky – call it passing of baton if you may.

Not taking anything away from other swimmers, two of the most significant performances, in my opinion, in the pools of Rio were by Simone Manual and Ashleigh Johnson. They both cemented their place in history – as the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold and the first African American to be in the US women’s Olympic water-polo team.

The contributions of Simone and Ashleigh are much more than just bringing home gold medals. They became role models to millions of children overnight. As evident from various media coverage and social media trends, their successes have reinvigorated the discussion on why the African-Americans are behind in swimming and reinforced the fact (and busted a myth) – yes, the African Americans can swim!

Simone’s gold medal winning performance in the 100-meter freestyle was very symbolic – initially she fell behind, but she kept at it and surged ahead during the last quarter of the race. What a finish! On the other hand, Ashleigh, the primary pillar of the team whose other members were all white, held her own as the goalie and kept the opponents at bay. The color of the skin did not matter!

As the statistics published by the CDC indicates, African-Americans children, age 5-19 years, are almost 6 times more vulnerable to drowning than their white counter part. What can the parents and communities do to help save those lives?

It is an opportunity for the black parents to tell their children stories of Simone and Ashleigh. If one family in Sugar Land can raise a Simone and a single mother in Miami can raise an Ashleigh, many more Simones and Ashleighs can be raised. They do not have to win medals, as long as they learn to swim and enjoy it.

Years of segregation, discrimination and economic disparity kept many African-Americans away from learning swimming and left them fearful of drowning. But, there is no reason to continue to pass the fear of drowning down the generations.

If we believe our society is desegregated, we should formulate policies and legislations to make swimming affordable for all through public-private partnerships and by making swimming lessons mandatory in our schools.

– Meghna Sil


Swimming & Innovation – Wearable that Speaks to you

Hard to believe that the 2016 Olympics just ended yesterday. Gladly, there hasn’t been any controversy over swimwear or any ‘technological doping’. There were some disparaging reactions over ‘drug doping’ by Lilly King and Mack Horton, angst over the water quality for open water events, some pools turning green, and a fabricated robbery that stole very little thunder from some of the great performances in the pools of Rio.

After the ‘technological doping’ scandal in the 2009 Rome Games the swimming authorities clamped down on what can be considered a swimsuit in competitive swimming. Despite the restrictions, the major players like Speedo and TYR continued to innovate while staying within the limitations imposed by the authorities. I whole heartedly support these innovations.

In parallel to swimwear innovation, I expect an explosion of use of smart technology for training our next generation of swimmers; we already are seeing many in the form of video cameras and wearables. Most of these wearable are of, as I call, ‘fit-bit’ genre. In my mind, the next push will be for devices that not only collect performance stats but also provide instant feedback with minimal disruption. In addition, have the ability to load pre-programmed training regimes. Marlin seems to fit the bill very well.

Placement of the device on the swimmer’s body is very crucial for accurate feedback. The device should not interfere with the swimming, should not create unnecessary drag, and should not allow water to interfere with signal reception, if GPS enabled. Similar to some other devices, e.g., Swimbot, the main unit of Marlin is positioned at the back of the head.

Source : http://www.platysens.com

Marlin, which has multiple motion sensors, collects critical performance stats, like distance, speed, lap count, lap time, etc., and communicates those to the swimmer real-time via the bone conductive headset. The designers of Marlin claim that the device can be pre-programed with training routines to guide while training. Marlin also allows the performance data to be synched up with an app on iOS or Android devices for later analysis.

An extended version of Marlin is GPS enabled – good news for the swimmers training for triathlon. The swimmer can program Marlin with a pre-determined course, and it will provide instant feedback if there is any deviation from the course (very similar to OnCourse goggles, difference being, one is audible and the other is visual.).

Overall, it is a great product with effective combinations of ideas previously seen in other wearable devices. The designers of Marlin are raising funds – check out KickStarter. Even though I do not have any affiliation or alliance to Marlin, I am a big proponent of technology and innovations; more so, for anything that promotes swimming, brings awareness to water safety, and encourages more people to swim.

– Meghna Sil

What a journey!

Glory is not new to Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. After 5 Olympics appearances, numerous records and 22 medals (and still counting), he has left no doubt in our minds about his athletic abilities, discipline, endurance and desire to win.   The privilege to hold the ‘Stars and Stripes’ high and lead our country to the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro is a great honor that could be bestowed on the greatest swimmer of our time.

Literally, I got goose bumps as I watched Michael Phelps leading the US Olympic contingent into Maracana Stadium. Even though I was watching the opening ceremony on the television, I felt as if I was there in the stadium.  What a wonderful sight! The joy and the happiness reflected on the faces of the athletes combined with the pride, joy, and calmness on Phelps’s face transported me to swim heaven. His demeanor echoed what he said – “I’m honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S. and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for.”

Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony
Michael Phelps carries the flag of the United States during the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

What a great moment for all the swimmers. Our very own leading the US Olympic team. I am very sure every person on the team is a great athlete having exceptional credentials to be the flag bearer. But, who could mean more for the sport of swimming? Who could showcase better the ability to come back stronger? Who could epitomize Olympic spirit? Of course, it can be debated, but Michael Phelps must be on the top stratosphere with an elite few. It means lot more than adding ‘flag bearer’ to Olympic resume. Team US, you made the right choice!

Phelps’s contribution to the sport of swimming has been lot more than winning 22 Olympic medals or many records he has broken in the water. He is a role model to countless children, who otherwise would have never gotten in the water due to fear of drowning. He has, directly or indirectly, encouraged many children to take up the sport of swimming.   And in this regard, I think, Michael Phelps comes second to none.

While we deliberate, at least for next few weeks while the games are on, about his swimming prowess and how many more medals he can win, we should also celebrate his achievements on and off the water.   Even though this may be his last Olympic, his contribution will be felt for a long time to come.  The mission statement of Michael Phelps Foundation summarizes his contribution very well – “Working to promote healthy, active lives, especially for children, primarily by expanding the opportunities for participation in the sport of swimming”.

Encourage children to learn to swim and promote water-safety and healthy-living.

– Meghna Sil

Unsafe Water – Rio Olympics

Today many of the news media is buzzing with ‘Don’t put your head under water’ while in Rio.

The Olympics is less than a week away and the waters of Rio are infested with human sewage, bacteria and viruses. Correct, I am talking about the water venues where open water competitions are to take place and putting around 1,400 athletes at health risk.

I have been keeping a close eye since the Associated Press (AP) published its first report in June 2015 on water quality of the open water venues for the Olympics. The findings were quite disconcerting – the analysis of the water samples indicates high contamination with bacteria, viruses and sewage. I know for sure, this amount of contamination in the US water bodies would have been deemed unfit for any kind of water sport, let alone Olympics. Initially it was thought the hazards were closer to the shore, but by Dec. 2015 it was confirmed that the hazards were off the shores too. Some even feel water concerns in Rio is overblown, and I truly hope that is the case.

The latest AP report that just came out is equally concerning, nothing much has changed in past year since the last report. None of the ‘promises’ made by the authorities to improve the water quality were kept. Of course, the athletes have taken all possible precautions, including antibiotics and anti-viral medicines. Is it fair to make the athletes compete in unsafe waters when they have worked hard and built their dreams around representing their countries in Olympics?

I am passionate about making water sport safe. I am not talking about only safety against drowning, but also safety from health hazards. Growing up in the US, we take the water quality for granted. All open water bodies I have been to have safety hazards clearly posted.

Considering the IOC awarded 2016 Olympics Rio in Oct. 2009, the Olympics authorities and Brazilian government had enough time to address the water quality issue. I strongly urge the IOC to use this as a learning opportunity and put some checks and balances in place for countries prior to awarding Olympic Games in future. We want our athletes to showcase their talents in hygienic environments.

My best wishes to the athletes competing to their full potential and come out of the water unscathed and their dreams fulfilled.

– Meghna Sil