OBERLIN, Ohio — A lifelong swimmer, William Otis Jordan, also known as Billy, spent most of his life in the water alongside his sister, Gloria.
“He was always fish one and I was fish two because he was the better swimmer. The pool was his place of healing. He loved water,” said Gloria Buxton.
The pair never stopped visiting local pools and beaches, even into their sixties.
That was until last summer when the unexpected happened.
Buxton took Jordan and her granddaughter to a nearby YMCA.
But shortly into the visit, fear set in once she couldn't find her brother. She asked an employee for help.
“I asked the gentleman, have you seen my brother? And he said, Is there a gentleman with a beard and blue shorts? The staff was running around because they were working on reviving him,” said Buxton.
On June 2, 2022, Jordan had a heart attack in the pool, leaving Buxton without her sidekick.
“He was my travel partner. Now, I don't you know, I don't have him anymore,” said Buxton.
Buxton said it's been a struggle for her to get back in the water.
In the meantime, she's turning that tragedy into something positive.
“Make lemonade out of lemons, right? Take pain and turn it into joy,” said Buxton.
Buxton came up with the 'I Can Swim My Way' project which raises money to offer free swim classes to a group most at risk of drowning in Lorain County.
According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children one-to-four-years-old.
A possible cause is the lack of affordable access to swim lessons for low-income households.
“Because it is that extra money that they need to take to do the class. Having a program like this where it's paid for is fantastic because people don't realize how important swim lessons are,” said Erica Rainey, Facility Coordinator, Lorain County Metroparks.
When you look at the research based on racial and ethnic groups, Black children are nearly twice as likely to drown than white children.
“The statistics about kids drowning are crazy. Not having that skill is terrifying,” said Brittany Lovett, parent.
Lovett said she recognizes the need for the life-saving skill, even if they can't swim themselves.
“I do not know how to swim, which is why I want them to learn how to swim even more. They can only go to four feet because mom's only five feet tall, so they can't get too deep,” said Lovett.
Buxton hopes this project helps families face their fears and embrace the water.
She said it’s something her brother Jordan would be proud of and celebrate.
“He would say, you go, Glo,” said Buxton.
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