By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
Michael Phelps has earned so many accolades in his life that it’s difficult to list them all.
But among his many medals and honors, it has been his opportunities to use his celebrity and impact in sports to give back to others that has left an equally if not more indelible mark.
For his long-standing work with and dedication to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), Phelps was honored last month as the organization’s 2012 Champion of Youth at its annual Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
A supporter of BGCA since 2003, Phelps was presented with the award by former recipient, member of the organization’s Alumni Hall of Fame and two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington. Phelps earned the 2012 Champion of Youth award in recognition for going above and beyond in his commitment to youth at Clubs across the country.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Boy & Girls Clubs for almost 10 years now, and it’s a great honor to receive their Champion of Youth award,” said Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete in history with 22 Olympic medals and the founder of the Michael Phelps Foundation. “I always said I wanted to change the sport of swimming, to do something that nobody had ever done before, and it is my hope that through my story, I can inspire children to pursue their dreams and understand that anything is possible in life.”
Phelps established his foundation in 2008 following his historic 8-gold-medal performance at the Beijing Olympics and has remained committed to growing the sport of swimming and encouraging active and healthy lifestyles for children, both in and out of the pool.
Through his foundation, he developed the im program in 2009 and launched a national pilot program in 2010 through BGCA. The im program, which is now running in 28 clubs across 22 states, including a U.S. Naval installation in Naples, Italy, has successfully exposed more than 4,000 youth to water safety, recreational aquatic activities, and health, wellness and goal-setting instruction based on the same basic techniques and principles that Phelps implemented throughout his swimming career.
The im program – named in recognition of Phelps’ signature individual medley event and as an abbreviation to the self-affirming “I am” – was developed in partnership with www.KidsHealth.org and the Michael Phelps Swim School.
To date, the impact of the im program through BGCA includes:
• More than 4,000 im program participants
• Average 120 participants and 180 hours of programming per Club
• More than 75 percent of imsafe participants received swimming instruction for the first time in their lives
• Nearly 90 percent of participants are under age 12, the age group most at risk of drowning
• 65 percent of im program participants are of African-American or Latino/Hispanic descent, the ethnic communities with drowning rates 2 to 3 times higher than the national average
“We’re so grateful to Michael for his many years of support,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of America President and CEO Jim Clark. “The im program is a perfect complement to our generation-changing initiatives, which are all about equipping young people with the necessary skills to ensure a safe and healthy lifestyle, both in and out of the water.”
In addition to developing and sponsoring the im program, the Michael Phelps Foundation also provides each Club with financial support to assist with overall program costs, including staffing, training, supplies and equipment, pool access and maintenance and administrative expenses. The Foundation also supplies each Club with official im posters, medals, member handbooks and assorted prizes.
To learn more about the Michael Phelps Foundation and/or make a donation, visit
www.michaelphelpsfoundation.org. To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and/or make a donation, visit www.bgca.org.