Virginia Hunt Newman has been called “The
Mother of Infant Swimming.” She pioneered and focused worldwide attention on the
non-forceful, non-traumatic method of teaching infants and preschool-age
children to swim, earning great respect as an innovator in the field. She began
her swimming career at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. From 1940 to 1948 she was
a diver for the Los Angeles Athletic Club, winning swimming and diving titles.
She performed in water shows with Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe for the
USO. In 1950, Virginia wrote and directed a series of springboard diving films
while working as an aquatic director and swimming coach at the Black Fox
Military Academy in Los Angeles.
In 1962, she gained international attention
when her star student, Bing Crosby’s daughter Mary Frances, passed the Red Cross
Beginner Test at age two – the youngest ever to be awarded the certificate. Red
Cross Honorary Chairman Johnny Weissmuller presented the certificate to Mary
Frances on national television, with coverage by “Life,” “Look” and “Time”
magazines. This was the catalyst for Virginia to compile her methods of
non-traumatic teaching in her 1967 book, Teaching an Infant to Swim, a
bestseller published in England, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Japan.
Teaching Young Children to Swim and Dive was published in 1969. Its method of teaching swimming by distracting children
from normal fears associated with learning has been emulated by thousands of
instructors worldwide. Some of the thousands of children taught by Virginia
include those of John Wayne, Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Bob Newhart, Sonny & Cher,
Shari Lewis, and Danny DeVito & Rhea Pearlman. She has conducted numerous
national and world clinics and workshops on teaching children to swim.
Yoko Yagishita exemplifies the spirit of the Virginia Hunt Newman Award and the pioneering, innovative spirit of Virginia herself. Both are little dynamos. Both share a special heart for babies. Both share the foresight, intelligence and conviction to foster
teaching methods that allow the tiniest swimmers to grow and learn in their aquatic environment in tear-free and positive lessons. Yoko is both the first woman and Asian to receive the Virginia Hunt Newman Award.
Yoko graduated with college degrees from Nihon and Keio Universities. She is a licensed Japan Counseling Association
After college, Yoko traveled through-out the provinces of Japan reporting on national political campaigns. Two of the young men
she covered became her friends and eventually served as Prime Ministers of Japan. Under the radio name of Yoko Hamami, she
continued her trail-blazing media career as a female disk jockey for Japan National Broadcasting, interviewing John Lennon,
Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and others. However, the birth of her son in 1978 led to a significant career change for Yoko.
During her son’s baby swim classes, she realized what a wonderful experience it was to spend precious time with him enjoying the
water. In 1980, she decided to train to become a baby swim teacher and received her “Baby Swim Instructor” qualification from
the Japan Swimming Club Association. After meeting Virginia Hunt Newman ten years later at the World Aquatic Babies
Conference (WABC) in Tokyo, Yoko was inspired to adopted a ”wait until the flower blooms” swimming program, spreading this
joyous manner style of teaching in the parent/child group class format. Her tiny students are never forced to perform skills.
At the 1995 WABC Conference in Melbourne, Yoko became so inspired by a video showing smiling babies, above and under the
water, that over the next 12 years, she made twelve, two-week trips to the United States to study under the direction of Rob and
Kathy McKay’s Lifestyle Swim School in Boca Raton, Florida, to observe and absorb these gentle methods. Only a pupil during
the first several years at the McKay’s swim school, she was soon acting as a guest teacher in the United States. To finance the
trips, Yoko worked long hours at nights driving a delivery truck and days teaching her baby swim students.
Virginia Hunt Newman’s, gentle approach to swim teaching inspired Yoko to start a new chapter of her life. She became a woman
on a mission becoming something wonderful in the lives of children, their parents and the teachers to whom she promoted the
gentle, patient approach. She began to realize her dreams. Speaking only several words of English during her first trips to
America, she communicated with her smile, playfulness and gentle manner. Nothing stopped her, not even a bout of cancer which
she fought and survived with her typical strength and optimistic attitude. Her positive teaching techniques for babies, while also
integrating special needs children into her classes, slowly began to spread to clubs and aquatic programs though-out Japan. She
combined the best of Western and Eastern technique to make a culture and community of nurture, joy and fun for mothers,
fathers and their babies.
Yoko has been featured in many Japanese media, including among others, mothering and baby magazines “Akasugu” and NHK
Educational Journal. She has appeared on television’s “Good Morning Japan”. She swims three days per week, practices yoga, and has
hiked the Grand Canyon. Yoko is also a licensed antique replica doll maker.
Like Virginia, Yoko is short in stature, but a giant among men and women. She is opening baby swim programs for the Tipness
Group of Sports Clubs and has revamped or begun baby swim programs in multiple locations in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka,
Yokohama and Kanto. She is scheduled to open a new program in the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. She has
trained over 500 teachers in Japan, creating positive shockwaves through-out the country with many thousands of happy babies
and their parents smiling in the water from coast to coast. Yoko has, bravely and against all odds, given voice to those who have
no voice, making Virginia Hunt Newman happy to know that her gentle legacy continues above, as well as below, the surface of the water.