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Are there swimming organizations that I can join?
Check your local pool to see if they have a club that you can join. You can also check out United States Masters Swimming (http://www.usms.org/), a national, nonprofit organization with 500 clubs in 53 regions throughout the United States that organizes workouts, competitions, clinics, and workshops for adults ages 18 and over, with members as old as 100!
Can my young child start swimming?
There are many clubs and pools that offer swim lessons for infants and children, but parents should be cautious. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a medical organization of 55,000 primary care pediatricians and pediatric medical specialists that sets guidelines for pediatric health in the United States, states that children are not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday. According to the AAP and its policy statement "Swimming Programs for Infants and Toddlers," drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the pediatric age group and that drowning rates are highest among toddlers ages 1 to 2 years of age. They go on to say that while an estimated 5-10 million infants and preschool children participate in aquatic programs, these should not be promoted as a way to decrease the risk of drowning. They emphasize that parents should not feel secure that their child is safe in water or safe from drowning after participating in an aquatic program. They state, "Whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be within an arm's length, providing 'touch supervision.'"
What about triathlons?
Triathlons combine swimming, running, and biking into one event. Distances for each event vary with six-mile runs up to full marathons, 25- to 100-mile bike rides, and half-mile lake, river, or pool swims to two-mile ocean swims. Triathlons are growing in popularity across the United States and combine the athletic challenges of strength, endurance, determination, and discipline. Check out the USA Triathlon Web site at http://www.usatriathlon.org/ to learn more about triathlons.
What about swimming with disabilities?
Water is a great equalizer. It supports body weight, and with proper flotation devices, most anyone can exercise in the water no matter what the physical disability. Check locally at Y's, recreation centers, and other pools for opportunities in your area, or click on the USA Swimming Web site (http://www.usaswimming.org/) to learn more (click on the "swimmer" tab and then "disability"). In addition to recreational swimming, the United States Paralympics Swim Team (http://www.usoc.org/paralympics/swimming_teams.html) offers athletes with disabilities (amputees, blind/visually impaired, spinal-cord injured/wheelchair, cerebral palsy/brain injury/stroke) the opportunity to compete internationally in swimming. Swimming is an activity for virtually anyone who has the will and desire to do so.
There you have it. Swimming is an activity that builds strength, endurance, and muscle tone. It's an activity that you can do all year long, inside or outside, it burns lots of calories, you can share it with your family, it's low-impact (just in case your bones are creaky), and you can do it until you're 100! It's not too late to start if you never learned how (learning new stuff is cool even when you're adult!), and for those of you who can swim and would like to compete, that's available as well. All in all, swimming is a winner, and if you have the inclination, I suggest that you go for it!