By Xiomara Martinez-White, EnStars | May 21, 2013 08:29 AM EDT
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With the Rio Olympics still years away, Olympic medalist Cullen Jones is taking time out to give back through the sport he loves.
Jones made a stop in Harlem, NY, last week to promote USA Swimming Foundation's Make A Splash initiative, as part of the group's national tour. Make A Splash is the national swimming group's anti-drowning program, which hopes to teach children safety techniques and basics of the sport; its motto is "Saving Lives, Building Champions."
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Jones visited P.S. 152 in the neighborhood, and brought some of its youngest students into the pool for a swimming safety lesson. The children were taught how to blow water out of their noses and mouths and how to float. Jones helped to calm the fears of the more nervous swimming
"Fear trumps everything," Jones addressed during the presentation. "We need to change the perception of swimming from an activity to a life skill. We really need to get everyone water-safe."
Jones would know. Long before he was winning races with Michael Phelps (Jones was part of the gold medal winning relay in 2008), he too was a scared child who nearly drowned while visiting an amusement park.
"When I got to the bottom of the pool after the slide," Jones told Good Morning America in a 2008 interview, "I flipped upside down and I was holding onto the inner tube, upside down. I passed out, panicked. And my dad had to jump in and come save me."
The experience convinced him to start taking lessons.
Jones is a local Olympic hero in the New York area -- he was born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey -- and one of the few black swimmers to have represented the United States at the highest levels.
According to Make A Splash's statistics, there are children of all backgrounds who lack the ability to swim, but the rate is especially high (70 percent) among African-Americans.
While Jones has been inspiring children in New York, he too has become inspired to push on in his own swimming exploits. He lost out of the gold medal in the 50m freestyle in London last year, and though he had contemplated retiring, his competitive spirit has reeled him back in.
"I'm going to be back," said Jones, looking ahead to Rio. "I'm going to get the gold."
Check out Jones' swimming lessons below:
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