April 6 marks the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP). Olympian, Kirsty Coventry, speaks about her Academy, its water safety programmes and saving lives through sport in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry is Africa’s most decorated Olympian, having won seven medals in swimming, competing in five Games between 2000 and 2016. Since retiring from swimming competitively, Kirsty has been using her profile to raise awareness of the dangers of water and the creation of a drowning prevention programme.

“Being a swimmer from Zimbabwe, I knew there were a lot of open water sources and that we have quite a high drowning rate. So that is naturally where we wanted to start”.

This epiphany prompted Kirsty to establish the Kirsty Coventry Academy in 2015, its principal aim being to save lives in Zimbabwe through water safety and drowning-prevention programmes.

“I was listening to a basketball player speak a long time ago at a Peace and Sport Forum,” she explains.

“He talked about how athletes don’t choose whether or not they’re role models. That resonated with me because you don’t choose. If you’ve been successful – whether in your hometown, your country, or your continent – you are a role model to others.”

“You have a great opportunity to create change, to create strength within a community, and to create the possibility for people to come together and hold each other accountable.

“That was a big reason for establishing the Academy. We’re starting by focusing on drowning-prevention and water safety and hopefully that will lead to some other programmes we’d like to run.”

In its first year of operation, the Kirsty Coventry Academy donated USD 30,000 worth of school supplies to a primary school in Harare, taught water safety lessons to 477 school children and saw a further 377 school children receive swimming lessons through teachers trained by the academy.

 

 

The next step for Kirsty is to oversee the steady growth of the academy and widen its message.

As a former athlete still adjusting to the demands of a new career, Kirsty has plenty of advice for fellow sportspeople interested in philanthropy. The Zimbabwean ultimately has grander plans to extend the goals of her academy beyond just swimming – but stresses the importance of identifying and focusing on one particular area during a charitable organisation’s crucial formative phase.

“Try to be quite specific when you’re starting. We don’t just want to have an impact on swimming; we eventually want to help children participating in other sports. But we had to pick a starting point,” she explains.

While this makes for encouraging reading, Kirsty claims it is a “drop in the ocean” compared to what she believes the academy can still do.

With this attitude – which helped her become one of the most successful Olympic swimmers of all time – there is no reason why Kirsty’s lofty ambitions cannot be met.

 

To find out more about the Academy click here.