By Jim McCloskey
Through the years, I assembled a pair of large computer files containing links to two specific sorts of news items. At the time, I considered them to be never-the-twain-shall-meet categories that I would eventually write about separately. But now I see them as interwoven,
as two sides of the same coin, and I want to discuss them together.
One file, lost last year in a change of computers, contained items about closures of public pools and a distinct, concomitant decline in swimming skills, particularly among children.
I developed my approach to this collection about five years ago and wrote a half-dozen or so blogs on my serious concern about the demise of old public pools (and a civic reluctance to repair them or build new ones) as well as the declining availability of easily accessible, relatively inexpensive swimming lessons. I presented these trends as a pervasive threat to the future of watershaping, and you may remember a sentence I repeated often: “Those who know how to swim and are therefore comfortable around water will be more inclined than non-swimmers to want water as part of their homes and working environments.”
The other file, gone now as well, included links to articles that defined various levels of appreciation for the importance of water to human beings in their interactions with a broad array of environments. This cache included pieces ranging from information on the benefits of hydrotherapy to the importance of wetlands along with articles on the growing popularity of cruise vacations.
Three years back, I finally approached this more positive bucket of information through a blog or two I wrote in a late response to the publication in 2015 of Blue Mind, a book by Wallace J. Nichols that, it seemed to me, had done a better job than I ever could of communicating the value and significance to humans of being near or in water and of being comfortable around it.
Long story short, when Watershape University emerged last summer and Dave Peterson and Bill Drakeley announced the formation of the Live Blue Foundation to spread Nichols’ sense of the value of water to a much broader audience, it suddenly occurred to me that I had blown it by looking at those dearly departed files as separate.
I had previously perceived the widespread decline in swimming skills as an existential threat to watershaping on the one hand and, on the other, Blue Mind as a vast encouragement for watershaping. Now I see them as a flipping coin: The subjects are all linked, in other words, and through the Live Blue Foundation, there is now a movement that might just address my concerns as well as my optimism about Nichols' insights.
This observation put me in mind of two memorable articles. One was an editorial in a local newspaper that drew a direct line between a decline in the number of public pools and a notable increase in drownings before concluding with a call to action. Another tied the importance of learning to swim to the fact that so many more people than ever before live in places where there’s open water – a fact that defined a civic need to help large numbers of people become swimmers.
What I now see is less a threat than it is an opportunity. If we start looking at municipal pools as public-health resources rather than as drains on budgets, the ground shifts beneath our feet. I felt as though I’d just taken “Introduction to Blue Mind 101,” a basic course that spells out the natural inclination of human beings to groove on water while also defining conditions for a safer, saner aquatic experience.
What I foresee, as Watershape University builds up the Live Blue Foundation and pursues its mission to get people safely near, in, on, and under water for life, is that lines of thought will emerge that make it easier for municipalities to recognize the value of their aquatic resources, incline them to keep public pools open, motivate them to build new aquatic facilities and lead them to understand to the core that water is medicine for those who need it most – and for everyone else, too.
Where there was pessimism on my part, there is now great hope.