It all started over a decade ago, when Point Richmond resident Norman Hantzsche and his dogs started swimming in the bay at Keller Cove.
With its sweeping bridge views and high water quality, the cove offers some of the best open water swimming around. It wasn’t long before a group of local swimmers jumped in alongside Hantzsche.
The group of intrepid bay swimmers soon started an annual event to raise funds for a youth swimming program in the city of Richmond.
This Saturday, Hantzsche will preside over the 9th Annual Keller Cove Swim for Kids’ Sake. Nearly three hundred swimmers are expected to participate in the swim, six times the 50 or so people who showed up nine years ago.
The proceeds, about $10,000 last year, are used in part to address the shocking disparity in access to swimming: Sixty-nine percent of African-American children, 58 percent of Hispanic children and 42 percent of Caucasian children are unable to swim, according to a study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis.
“These diverse communities didn’t have access [to swimming] because of financial means or because they never felt like it was a safe place for them,” says John Schonder, founding head coach of the Richmond Sailfish, a youth USA swim team.
“Swimming has traditionally been a very white sport and often times people have gone out of their way to make people from diverse communities feel not included at community pools,” says Schonder.
Event proceeds will benefit Richmond’s Sailfish swim team and also provide swimming scholarships to inner-city and at-risk youth. The contest earnings will also cover pool rental fees, training equipment, and the coach’s salary.
Richmond Swims also offers several swimming and water safety programs for both youth and adults, including some free or low-cost lessons. The swimming program also supports a master’s swimming program called Richmond Plunge Masters.
For Schonder, who started swimming at age five, swimming was a source of stability and comfort growing up. No matter what was going on at home, he says, “I always felt like I had a family on my swim team. I always felt included. I always felt welcome. I got such a benefit from being on the swim team. [Everyone] should have that same opportunity.”
Richmond Swims is working to bring a lasting aquatics community to Richmond. Two years ago they graduated their first set of high school seniors, several of whom had been with the team since they were eight or nine years old. Almost all the graduating swimmers went to college, and one went to EMT training with the hopes of going to a firefighter academy.
Two weeks ago, Richmond Swims hired one of its alumni as an assistant coach for the first time. “We are really proud that we are seeing [our swimmers] grab onto the sport and learn professional skills,” says Schonder.
The Keller Cove Swim for Kids’ Sake will be held on Saturday, September 22nd, at Keller Beach at the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. The event includes both youth and adult competitions. Participants can choose to swim either half-a-mile, one-mile, or two-mile distances and there will be both wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions. For more information visit richmondswims.org.