Doctors' Notes

Cullen Jones Takes Aim At Childhood Drowning

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via talkback@jetmag.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


After nearly drowning as a child, world-renowned swimmer Cullen Jones turned a potential tragedy into an amazing Olympic career. A phenomenal athlete on a mission to educate the community about the importance of water safety, we caught up with Jones to learn how he has been working to tackle the disparities that exist as it relates to our youth learning to swim.

JET: As the highest-profile African American in swimming today, you are certainly an inspiration to young people everywhere, and especially in our community.   How is it that a young African American kid grows up to be one of the biggest names in U.S. swimming?

Cullen Jones: It took a lot of training!  At the age of 5, I almost drowned and that was my first introduction to large bodies of water.  We were on an inner tube ride at an amusement park and I flipped upside down and was under water for 30 seconds.  They had to pull me out and resuscitate me.  My mom then got me into swim lessons immediately.  By the age of 8, I saw my first swim meet and knew that this was something that I wanted to do.

JET: The statistics are staggering.  We know in our community roughly 70 percent of children have little to no swimming skills at all.  How is it that we as a community can get more African-Americans involved in the sport and how can we make sure that more of our children become trained?

CJ: In 2008, right after winning the gold medal, that was the first time that I was told that 70 percent of African-Americans don’t know how to swim and are at the highest risk to drown.  It hit me like a ton of bricks! When I looked at my own family, my mom at the time didn’t know how to swim, so it became very real to me.  So I began working with the Make A Splash Initiative, and the USA Swimming Foundation and Phillips 66 have really taken the first steps to try and combat this big drowning problem in the U.S. We have now reached millions and are seeing more children in the water getting water-safe!

JET: We also know that childhood obesity is a huge problem in our community.  Can you talk about some of the health and fitness benefits that participating in a sport like swimming can provide?

CJ:  It really is a universal sport where you are working every aspect of your body and it’s a lot of fun!  Kids love it! Once it starts getting hot, it’s almost natural for kids to run to the pool so getting kids swim lessons and getting them water-safe is knocking it all out at once.  We need to change the perspective the swimming is just an activity but it is also a life skill!

JET:  Where can we learn more about the Make A Splash Initiative?

CJ: You can visit the site where you can sign up your children to get swim lessons.  They’ve really made it very easy.  We have over 600 local partners and we’re in every state, so there’s really no reason why kids aren’t getting water-safe this summer.


It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!