Cullen Jones brings diversity to swimming

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IRVINGTON, N.J.–When he was 5 years old, Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones nearly drowned at a water park. Now he wants to help children swim and encourage minorities to take up his sport.

IRVINGTON, N.J.     When he was 5 years old, Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones nearly drowned at a water park. Now he wants to help children swim and encourage minorities to take up his sport.

Jones, who won a gold medal with the U.S. 400-meter freestyle relay team in Beijing, was honored in his return to his hometown where he launched a nationwide “diversity tour” for swimming.

“There are so many African Americans and Latin Americans that are afraid of the water but love to be in the water,” Jones said. “And that’s the problem. That’s what this diversity tour is about.”

Jones drew an enthusiastic response Sept. 20 from a crowd that included friends, residents, local officials and even New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who admitted being a little star-struck.

“He has used his life and success to give back to others,” Corzine said, adding that it was “pretty neat to have a gold-medal winner here.”

Shortly after nearly drowning as a child, Jones began taking swimming lessons with the Newark Swim Team and soon fell in love with the sport. As he grew, he and his parents became strong supporters of efforts to encourage swimming among minorities.

Those involved in the diversity tour say nearly 60 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim. Several parents who attended the event said Jones provides a strong role model.  AP

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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