L.A. city lifeguard Alexandra Gomez exemplifies how free swim lessons for low-income youth through Operation Splash can lead to opportunities that last a lifetime.
Alexandra Gomez didn’t know how to swim as a young girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Lessons were expensive, and not many kids in her low-income neighborhood swam or had access to pools. Yet, Alexandra enjoyed being around water. So when she heard about no-cost Learn to Swim classes offered through the Operation Splash program at the nearby Expo Center when she was 10 years old, she welcomed the opportunity.
“I was nervous, but I learned the basics first, and gradually got better,” said Alexandra, now 17. “I loved it!”
The Operation Splash program aims to improve health by increasing opportunities for safe physical activity and decreasing drownings. Kaiser Permanente partners with Los Angeles and other Southern California cities to provide no-charge swim lessons for low-income youth and adults, and scholarships for junior lifeguard training. The popular program has served more than 143,000 children and adults in the city of Los Angeles since launching in 2006.
Learning to swim can lead to other opportunities for youth, such as participating in competitive water sports, pursuing a career in aquatics, or even competing in the Olympics.
After finishing the Learn to Swim program, Alexandra’s growing confidence in her swimming abilities led her to join a swim team, play high school water polo, and become a junior lifeguard. In fact, the recent Venice High School graduate also completed the 2019 Lifeguard Academy. This summer she’s a lifeguard at the city’s Jackie Tatum/Harvard Pool in South Los Angeles, a role she takes seriously.
“I’m so excited,” Alexandra said. “Being a lifeguard gives me a chance to help the community learn more about water safety and to be a role model for other kids.”
Taking that first step to learn to swim greatly influenced Alexandra’s life. She believes her experience with Operation Splash, water sports, and lifeguard training over the years has helped teach her essential life skills. Whether it’s self-motivation, eating healthy, or collaboration, these skills and more will long benefit her beyond her time spent in the pool.
“Alexandra is an inspiring example of what’s possible when youth have access to tools and resources needed to succeed and be healthy,” said Angela Coron, managing director, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
In the fall, Alexandra will attend Sonoma State University with the goal of becoming a psychologist. She hopes to get a job as a lifeguard and potentially play water sports if her busy school schedule allows.
For youth considering learning to swim and becoming involved in water activities, Alexandra shared some advice: “Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try new things. There will always be someone around to help and support you.”