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Float Hope: How A Chance to Swim Can Change A Life

Tania Ortega-Cowan

Listen to the entire interview with 2004 Athens Olympic Gold Medalist Rhi Jeffrey, Coach Scott Barlow and Jeff Powers of FLOAT HOPE.

When Jeff Powers’ young son was severely injured, the family turned to swimming for his recovery. And it worked!

JP: I had a son who was hit by a car at age 9, was in a coma, recovered, but it was really swimming that brought him back…

That experience, combined with the fact that…

JP: My wife and I bought down here in 2012 and one of the things I noticed was that Vero Beach and Sebastian were the #1 in income disparity in the United States.

This perfect storm inspired Powers to start the nonprofit Float Hope in Indian River County with the idea to ‘float hope’ by gifting swimming as a life-skill to children without access to it.  

We find him at the North County pool during the all-county Go for the Gold Invitational swim meet to learn more.

JP: We take 6-9-year-old kids who cannot afford to swim. I want to turn them into someone after 4 or 5 years when they go to high school, they have a large friend group, they are an athlete, they have confidence and that they can be someone.

Powers connected with The Boys & Girls Clubs of Indian River County and the Gifford Youth Achievement Center to identify kids in need and bring them to the pool.

JP: And next thing we know we have 80 children swimming 3-5 days a week who when they first started did not know how to swim.

They’re now up to 122 and all compete at swim meets. Float Hope pays for gear and fees, and the children are registered with Treasure Coast Swimming under the direction of Coach Scott Barlow.

IB: I found my love of swimming through Mr. Powers.

That’s Isabella Bach.

IB: I go by Izzie. I’m in 6th grade. I wouldn’t be able to swim if it wasn’t for Float Hope.

Next we meet the very first recipient of Float Hope.

EM: Ethan McCloud. I am 18.

He’s about to start at University of Florida on a full scholarship for – you guessed it – SWIMMING!

EM: I do my best to make Scott proud. It has helped me with a lot of things in life honestly.

TOC: Like what?

EM: Like School. Not procrastinating. Being more self-efficient.

We find Coach Scott Barlow poolside cheering on the swimmers.

SB & TOC: “Hi, I’m Scott. I’m Tania. Nice to meet you.”

Today he’s brought to the pool one of his athletes from his early days in South Florida to inspire the young swimmers. She is a 2004 Athens Olympic Gold Medalist!

RJ: I am Rhi Jeffrey, the swimmer.

TOC: The gold-winning swimmer!

RJ: Yes, the gold-winning swimmer. (laughter)

We ask about their journey to the Olympics.

RJ: I was undisciplined. Unruly. I spoke my mind. I didn’t care what anybody else thought.

SB: She worked very hard in practice. And a lot of people say you know, well, hey, it’s the talented kids that go on and become an Olympian and this and that and the other, but that’s not true. It’s only a small part of the ingredient. 

The conversation turns to Float Hope.

SB: We’re seeing kids transform in front of our eyes.

RJ: With kids that come from unconventional backgrounds, there’s a sense, speaking from experience, a sense of being lost in the world and not knowing where your place is. And so, to be given something like that in an environment like this, and then on top of it in a sport where it does come down to you, you learn that you don’t really need anybody else to take care of you.

We talk another 30 minutes or so on a fascinating range of topics including the Olympics, rising from adversity, mental health, and lifelong friendship. You can listen to it by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this story.

Learn more here: https://www.floathopenow.org/