Virginia Hunt Newman International Award


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.

Presenting the 200
9 Virginia Hunt Newman International Award winner...

Francoise Freedman Francoise Freedman, Ph.D. (GBR)

Françoise Freedman, with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, has more than twenty years experience teaching and educating instructors in water babies programs from her London area home base. She founded and operates Birthlight, an organization focusing on a holistic approach to pregnancy, birth and babyhood that includes an original water babies program and a pre and postnatal aquanatal program.

Growing up as a competitive swimmer in the central region of France, Françoise credits her coaches with instilling a drive for excellence without losing the fun of swimming. As a teen she spent summers teaching swimming to reluctant children and learned that gentle progressions helped children to happily relax and float in preparation to learn more advanced skills.

As a young fieldworker in Peruvian Amazonia, swimming was again a useful and natural activity; whether diving down to catch fish in the streams that flow from the Andes or as a daily recreational treat for all children or for bathing. She saw older children teaching little tots to swim as part of looking after them, as well as parents crossing rivers with babies on their backs. Françoise was very much in a natural water environment and thereby also observed the movements of pink dolphins, otters and other water creatures swimming with their young.

Returning to London to continue her education academically as well as aquatically, she set up a small group of families who were interested in “swimming with their babies” and incorporated the gentle playful ways witnessed in the Amazon. The water sessions became the highest of each week in Cambridge, Françoise then having children of her own. Virginia Hunt Newman’s book, Teaching an Infant to Swim was an early inspiration for her to teach babies and young children.

The presentation of her first film Water Parenting in 1995 launched the Birthlight approach to infant aquatics with a focus on effective communication between parents and babies in a water environment. The film conveyed the message that water could be conducive to an easier birth, in the water or not, and that it could also help parents bond with their babies at any time by finding ease together in the

Her video Swimming with Babies came next, followed by her book Water Babies. Working at the time also as an academic medical anthropologist at Cambridge University, Françoise’s university colleagues were surprised to see a two-page article on Birthlight Baby Swimming

in the Times, and again on the front page of the Daily Mail, both leading UK newspapers.
Françoise continues to impact gentle ways throughher Birthlight organization, making sure teachers always create a wave of warmth and a good time in the water for children and parents.

Previous Award Recipients...

2008 José Fontanelli
2007 Yoko Yagishita
2006 Terje Stakset
2005 Steve Graves
2004 Rob McKay


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