Samantha Caballero was terrified of water. As an infant, she screamed every time she bathed. Her mother started to help her get used to the water by bringing her to Virginia Key Beach. “When I’d be at the beach, if the water came past my ankles, I would scream,” Caballero says.
Now, the FIU graduate runs a business that has taught dozens of mostly African American children to swim. Caballero founded a company called Swim with Sam in 2018 to provide mobile lessons to people aged 4 months and up, concentrating on communities in need. “Teaching Black people to swim was my focus because we’re the ones that drown the most,” says Caballero.
Research from the USA Swimming Foundation in 2017, the latest year available, shows almost 64% of African American children have little to no swimming ability. They are followed by 45% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children.
The CDC reports that drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 14 years old. One of the main factors that leads to drownings is the lack of swimming ability.
In September 2019, 6-year-old Ja’Kye Joseph and his 5-year-old brother, Branario Minto, were playing unattended in a pool in the family’s North Lauderdale apartment complex and drowned. One fell in trying to grab a floating toy. The other tried to save him. Neither knew how to swim.
Caballero, now 24, says she strives to reduce unintentional drowning deaths by building a brand that values quality swimming over speed or racing.
“Being a quality swimmer means having the correct technique,” explains Caballero. “Having the correct technique means having the education [and] understand[ing] how your body needs to move, and how you need to manipulate the water. Education really helps to defeat fear.”
Caballero overcame her irrational fear of water when her mother started her on swim lessons at age 6 through the Make a Splash initiative in Miami.
Caballero’s instructor encouraged her to join the swim team, and soon she was representing Miami Country Day School in meets. While in high school, she became the assistant coach for the elementary and middle school teams at Country Day. Caballero realized her joy was in swimming education rather than competition.
While earning her degree at Florida International University, Caballero taught swim lessons for Sunsational Swim School from 2016 to 2018. She aspired to open an aquatic facility that would provide a public swimming space year-round.
Opening a private facility is expensive and rare, though. So her idea evolved into running a swim-lesson business and hiring teachers who shared her enthusiasm. “Sometimes this dream idea you have is really just a dream,” says Caballero.
Swim with Sam, which she opened after graduating FIU in 2018 developed from one woman giving private swim lessons to a company with 15 qualified instructors and brand identity. Employees are carefully selected and must have swim education experience, be first aid- and CPR-certified, and demonstrate a passion for the Swim with Sam mission. In 2019 Swim with Sam taught over 250 students.
We are all products of our history. Now it’s our turn to create a beautiful product; a beautiful history for our children.
The history we create for our children will feed into the generation after them. Learning… https://t.co/RPkTJu9ld7
— Swim with Sam (@Swimwithsamllc) February 28, 2020
Two-year-old Kaia Pugliese in Boca Raton has been a student of Swim with Sam for a year and a half. Kaia’s mother, Marisa, says the company has helped her daughter become more comfortable with the water.
Pugliese says before swim lessons, her daughter couldn’t bear to lay her head back into the water. After a little time, patience, and non-forceful guided instruction, Kaia not only doesn’t fear, but requests to lay back into the water, says Marisa.
“I see immense growth at each class and feel such a sense of security that my daughter is in the best hands,” says Marisa Pugliese.
When the coronavirus pandemic came to South Florida, it was the end of the colder and slower months for Swim with Sam. The swim school has not taught lessons in public pools since the pandemic started and will only service clients in their private pools until further notice.
Now that the temperatures are high, Swim with Sam is busy again servicing approximately 50 students a week at their homes.“Thank God that there is chlorine in the pools, so we don’t really have an issue with coronavirus,” says Caballero. The CDC says there is no evidence that coronavirus can spread through recreational water.
Swim with Sam services Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County. The price varies from $35 to $60 per lesson, depending on the age group and package type—12 lessons is the most popular.
Caballero, who recently moved to Virginia, runs the company remotely. She hopes to expand to the West Coast of Florida and Northern Florida.