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Bri Leverenz: A Global Advocate for the Sport of Swimming

Bri Leverenz: A Global Advocate for the Sport of Swimming

In a previous blog post, AFH Athlete and swimmer, Bri Leverenz, shared with us her mission – to teach swimming to children in the Philippines. Most individuals in the Philippines do not know how to swim, so for too many, especially in an archipelago like the Philippines, swimming is a life saving skill. Read Bri’s latest blog post about her philanthropic journey in Southeast Asia.

I have been in the Philippines for an entire month, and there have been so many instances in which I have been blissfully unprepared for, and they have all taught me different lessons. Less than 48 hours in a foreign country, and I got to experience a true volcanic eruption followed by hundreds of earthquakes. Selfishly, 3 inches of ash coating the ground is really a bummer because that means there are 3 inches of ash in every pool too. Swim clinics? Not happening. Unselfishly, I am glad I witnessed it. I saw a community in distress: schools closed, thousands evacuated from their homes, and people rushing to get masks so they can even BE outside without the sulfur from the ash hurting their lungs. A new perspective is the greatest teacher, and I saw a community struggling with unimaginable damage and suffering. Reading a story on the news will never accurately portray the practical impact of a natural disaster. That city was not my home. If I felt my personal security was compromised, I could just leave, but everyone else did not have that luxury. Ash gets cleared (and used as building materials!) but the community won’t forget, and I certainly will not as well.

Despite the desolation, the people I was with were the most welcoming and gracious hosts. This is a common thread among the Filipino population. I have never felt more welcomed in my life, and I certainly do not feel like an outsider. Traveling alone presents unique challenges, but it has never felt like a burden. I’ve met people who I now consider to be friends, and I have been welcomed in to a foreign community entirely on the platform of sport.

I have gotten to share my history in sport with athletic directors, coaches, students, professors and athletes. I never knew that I had a story that anyone would want to listen to or that I had anything inspiring to say, but this journey has repeatedly proven that to be the case. My athletic career is one that I can look back on with reverence and appreciation. Sport opened up so many opportunities for me, including this trip, and now this is my chance to share the invaluable lessons I have learned. The facilities look different, the commentating sounds different, but the game remains the same. Sport really is a universal language.

I had every intention of traveling to the Philippines to be a champion for my sport and with a noble cause of teaching others to swim. My expectations and this reality could not have been further apart. I’m not just a champion for swimming, but for sport as a whole, and the relentless power that it holds.

Every day that I am here looks dramatically different than the last. I have been a guest on a radio show, I’ve taught basic swim skills to 400 students in one day. I’ve coached kids who only speak Tagalog or Korean. I’ve shared my story with athletes and in turn learned their sport from them. I’ve been a coach, an ate (Tagalog for big sister), a ma’am, and just plain Bri. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. I have learned to listen more than I speak and to watch everything. From dragon boat racing to diving for sea urchins to eat, I have taken on every opportunity enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. I thought I was coming to teach, but I have learned so much more than I could ever share. It has only been a month, but this archipelago feels like a second home.

Someone asked me today when was the last time I tried something for the first time. I could honestly answer every single day of the last 35 days straight. This blog could be an endless story of all of my firsts, from eating goat, to driving a motorcycle, leaning towards dragon boat race, or even teaching swimming in a freshwater spring filled with tilapia. I could list so many more, but it hardly does the experiences justice.

This trip has already shaped me in to a person I am proud to be. I have not always been comfortable. The world looks very different from my current view, but change fosters growth. I could write about a million more stories, but I would prefer to put the screen down and go live them. 9 cities down, who knows how many more to go.

I’ll be back to share about my next adventures.

Swimmer Bri Leverenz Heads to the Philippines to Give Back

My name is Brianna Leverenz, or Bri as I was called for the entirety of my college career. This past May I graduated from the University of Tennessee where I competed as a swimmer from 2015 until 2019. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona where the summers are painfully hot and backyard pools were a dime a dozen, so swimming has always been a part of my life. My sport was almost chosen for me because I am the youngest of 4 children, and if the older 3 swam, then so did I. I quickly found my own joy in swimming, and it was that passion that drove me to compete all the way through to an elite college level.

I knew that my swimming career would end with the termination of my college career, but I did not want my involvement with the sport to end as well. Swimming opened so many doors for me, and I owed it to myself, and the sport that I love, to use that platform to help others. To me, swimming is a sport and a pastime, but to many, especially in an archipelago like the Philippines, swimming is a life saving skill. I chose the Philippines because of an opportunity that arose and a need that I knew I could address, so I began crafting a plan. Now I am beginning a 3-month, 12 city journey all across a foreign country to coach kids how to swim and teachers on how to teach kids how to swim. The Filipino people will be the first to tell you that very few people, adults and children alike, know how to swim. I know that I will not be able to save everyone, but if I can help one child it will be a success.

While I would like to say this is a selfless mission, I want to be able to learn and grow as a person from experiencing a new culture and sharing my passion by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. From the months of planning this trip all the way to scheduling schools to work with, this project has been my own undertaking. I know the challenge of traveling alone, teaching hundreds of kids, and working with people with a different perspective is going to push me as an athlete, a person and a leader, and I hope to be able to channel that for positive personal growth. Sport is such a powerful platform for social change, and it is a gift to be able to share the possibility of hope with these kids. Swimming can be so much more than chasing a black line, it can be potential for something more.

While I am here by myself, I do not want what I am learning to end with me. I want to share my experience. Tune in to Athletes for Hope social media for my “Bri my Guest” series every Friday, and for more blog posts to come. If you are an athlete, and this is resonating with you, please reach out! Athletes for Hope is generously sponsoring my trip with the goal of expanding this project beyond me.