Four hundred Southern California spectators flocked to Corona del Mar’s main beach on Sunday, September 20, as approximately 250 swimmers between the ages of 6 and 75, residing as far away as Brixham, England; Phoenix, AZ; Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, and San Marcos, CA, took to the waves during the Swim for Life Foundation’s annual ocean swim to raise awareness of water safety measures. Three-time Olympian Janet Evans of Laguna Beach was among the first to congratulate each swimmer as they exited the waves.
In addition to Evans, notable participants included John Mykkanen (’84 Olympics), Bruce Furniss (’76 Olympics), and Steve Pickell (’76 Olympics). Sue Mackie, executive director of the United States Swim School Association, traveled from Phoenix to demonstrate her organization’s support for the Swim for Life Foundation. There were also three multi-generation families who completed the one-mile swim together. Johnny Johnson, Swim for Life Foundation president and founder, swam alongside son Eric (with wife Jennifer and 6-year-old daughter, Emma) and son David (with daughters Rachael and Ryann). Seventy-five-year-old Buddy Belshe, retired Newport Beach lifeguard and open water master, participated in the swim with his son, Dana, and grandchildren, Codi and Sydney. Earle Coate of Tustin swam with his daughter, Devon, and granddaughter, Jaime. In addition, Rhian Manley of Brixham, England, participated with her sister, Orange County resident Nicola Cooper.
UC Irvine student and Newport Beach resident Stephanie Gabert, whose father, Paul, also participated, was the first to complete the non-competitive swim that began near the jetty. Safety during the swim was monitored by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol and Newport Beach lifeguards, which provided a sea watch rescue boat and paddlers along the swim route. The paddleboard escorts were lead by Battalion Chief Jim Turner and Tim Carroll of the Newport Beach Lifeguards.
“The awareness-raising swim represents an awesome collaboration among safety personnel and local residents who are passionate about staying safer in the water,” said Swim for Life Foundation founder and President Johnny Johnson. “We live in a culture where being in, on and around the water is very popular, and it is absolutely vital to spread the message of how it can be enjoyed in a safer way for all ages.”
This year’s swim paid tribute to local resident and legendary Swimming Hall of Fame coach Flip Darr, who passed away on July 6 at the age of 74. Respected internationally for decades, Darr coached numerous Olympians such as Mykkanen. The Darr family presented the Swim for Life Foundation with a donation of $2,100, which was requested in lieu of flowers at Darr’s memorial. Miriam Darr expressed her appreciation for the Swim for Life Foundation’s help in continuing her husband’s legacy and for all that it is doing to help prevent drowning.
The ocean swim is an effort to promote the tenets of the Swim for Life’s “Safer 3” drowning prevention program. Drowning continues to be one of the leading causes of accidental death for children under age 5 in the United States, a statistic targeted by the Foundation with its multi-layered approach to drowning prevention. “Safer 3” calls for safer water (guarding against unauthorized entry to a pool or spa by a child), safer kids (advocating constant adult supervision and swim lessons) and safer response (preparation for the possibility of a drowning incident by learning and reviewing CPR). To further promote safety,Care Ambulance Service provided a special “Safer 3” ambulance and the OC Harbor Patrol was on hand with valuable information on boating safety.
Donations for this event, totaling over $30,000, have been generated to date by families and corporations that support the Safer 3 message. The Safer 3 message has received support from the Orange County Fire Authority and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, in addition to national-level endorsements from the United States Swim School Association, Pampers, McDonald’s, FedEx, and Toyota.
For additional information about the Safer 3 program, or to make a tax-deductible donation, please call the Swim for Life Foundation at 714-227-6000 or visit www.swimforlife.org.