With the type of training elite swimming demands, discovering how the sport’s athletes maximize their time outside of the pool is always enlightening. Kirsty Coventry, Zimbabwe’s most decorated female swimmer, is certainly no exception to the adage of swimmers being some of the best time managers in the world.
In spades, the 31-year-old Coventry demonstrates the ability to translate her success, media exposure and connections within the sport to make a difference for causes that mean something to her as a person. This includes residing on a number of important boards, such as the Athletes Commission, Olympic Solidarity, World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as the Coordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Coventry has also recently pick up a post as writer for Forbes Africa magazine, specifically writing on sports-related topics.
In addition, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is currently serving an 8-year term on the International Olympic Committee and was also one of ten Zimbabweans to earn a prestigious Olympic Solidarity Scholarship for Rio, a fund designed to provide assistance for all the National Olympic Committees, particularly those with the greatest needs.
However, even in light of all in which she has immersed herself, Coventry was still left feeling as though a major passion of hers was not specifically being addressed – that being the issue of drowning prevention. Coventry expressed that it was surprising to her that, with all of the charities with whom she has worked – for cancer, education, wildlife conservation, etc.,- she was very surprised that no one had ever approached her to help with drowning prevention.
So what does the 7-time Olympic medalist do to tackle this important mission in her home country? She starts up her very own “Kirsty Coventry Academy”, the first institution of its kind in Zimbabwe. Coventry tells SwimSwam that “swimming has always been my passion, but it is also seen as a privilege, and it shouldn’t be. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to swim.” As such, the Kirsty Coventry Academy will provide children with “a life skill by teaching them to swim.”
SwimSwam conducted a detailed interview to find out more from the dynamic athlete directly on what her overall vision entails.
Q: Will your water safety campaigns be targeted within the entire country of Zimbabwe? Other parts of Africa?
A: “The Kirsty Coventry Academy is focusing on Zimbabwe for right now. We have to get our model right before we can start expanding this nationally and only then look at other countries. We do not have the resources to target the entire country or other parts of Africa at the moment, but we do have a plan to develop and grow our program. We are looking for partners that want to implement our coaching programs, we will also need equipment such as goggles, swim caps, buoys, kickboards, and we need donor funds to help roll out these projects. The cheapest swimming lessons in Zimbabwe cost about $5 per lesson but in our program $5 can give a child 24 lessons! If we can increase the training of more coaches, this cost will go down even further. The Kirsty Coventry Academy has already started teaching 400 children to swim and as we train more coaches, this number will increase.
Q: Will you personally be managing these efforts?
A: “I don’t just put my face to a charitable organization. I want to be involved and get my hands dirty and this is the case with many of the projects or charities that I work with. Naturally, I will be more involved with the Kirsty Coventry Academy as this is my personal vision. My husband, Ty, works on this with me to ensure the programs are being implemented and results are being achieved. Ty has a personal interest in this too: when he was about 2 years old, he drowned in a friend’s pool with his father standing only 10 yards away. Ty slipped in with no splash and no screams for help. His older brother alerted their father who pulled Ty out from the bottom of the pool, his little face blue from lack of oxygen. After about 10 or 15 minutes of CPR and Ty’s grandfather saying ‘it’s over, there is nothing more you can do.’ Ty vomited up the water and started breathing again. Like many people in Africa, they were 2 hours away from the closest doctor and had it not been for his father’s knowledge of CPR, things may have turned out a little different. Part of our ‘Training our Coaches’ program is CPR so help can be immediate.
As Africa’s most decorated Olympic athlete and the top individual female swimmer, Coventry acknowledges that she has had to go through difficulties of her own. Through efforts such as her Academy, the history-maker is proving that “it does not matter from where you come, as long as you persevere, make the sacrifices and believe in yourself, then you will succeed.”