The life of Olympic gold medalist Jessica Hardy was saved – and forever changed – when she fell into a pool at a children’s birthday party as a young girl.
“I was under the water and I remember the man who saved me was wearing a yellow shirt and I remember just staring up at this yellow blob through the water,” says Hardy, who was 3 at the time. “I’m so grateful that he spotted me and jumped in and saved my life.”
Following that near drowning Hardy’s mom quickly enrolled her in swim lessons, which turned out to be another life-defining moment.
Because from then on Hardy loved the water, especially racing in it.
And racing fast.
“We would go to the community pool in the summertime to socialize and I noticed that the swim team would kind of congregate in the afternoon and I asked my mom if I could go beat them, instead of race them,” says Hardy. “I had that competitive nature from the beginning. I definitely enjoyed the water and I had amazing instructors who helped me feel safe and allowed me to play and have fun and be competitive.”
Hardy won gold in the 4×100-meter relay and bronze in the 4×100-meter freestyle at the 2012 Summer Olympics; and throughout her spectacular career she captured 28 medals in international competitions across the globe and was a 12-time world record holder.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Recently retired from competitive swimming, she’s doing her part to help make a difference in the lives of others through the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” initiative.
Since 2007 “Make a Splash” has given more than 4 million children the lifesaving gift of free or low-cost swim lessons.
“Having experienced a near-drowning episode as a kid I understand that if it can happen to someone who went on to win an Olympic gold medal then it really can happen to anyone,” Hardy says.
Child drownings are the second leading cause of unintentional death for children under 14, and the leading cause of unintentional death for children under the age of 4.
These numbers are scary: 70 percent of African-American children, 60 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of Caucasian children don’t know how to swim.
“Those numbers blew me away because that’s something that we can fix,” Hardy says. “It’s not cancer, it’s not an illness; it’s truly something that we can make a difference in and all it takes is just a little bit of awareness and attention. I’ve had such a positive experience in the sport and it absolutely changed my life, but most importantly I had so much fun along the way doing it and I just love to share that kind of enthusiasm as much as I can and helping people feel comfortable, passionate and really enjoy the water.”
MAKE A SPLASH
If your child cannot swim or you would like to help others learn this critical life-saving skill, visit www.USASwimmingFoundation.org to find a local partner offering affordable swim lessons.