Tankproof Brings Free Swimming Lessons, Fun & Confidence to Austin Kids
The brothers who founded the non-profit discuss teaching deserving kids a crucial life skill
By Meher Qazilbash
Photographs courtesy of Tankproof
Twin brothers Thurman and Torrence Thomas are best known as THEBROSFRESH, a stylish R&B duo from Louisiana. But these musicians also use their talent, creativity and skills to save and change the lives of kids from communities in need. Their nonprofit, Tankproof, has a unique mission: to teach kids about water safety and how to swim. The brothers’ efforts began in their home state, but this summer their team hit the road on the Tankproof Tour, which made a recent stop in Austin to offer free swimming lessons — and much more — to local kids.
According to Thurman, who spoke to Tribeza with Torrence poolside at the Austin Motel during the final day of lessons there, the brothers came up with their “random idea” by asking a simple question: “What can we do for our community?”
As a kid, Thurman was involved in a near-drowning accident when he felt pressure to fit in with friends at a pool party and ventured into the deep end without knowing how to swim. Though he panicked and was in real danger, Thurman was pulled from the water by an adult at the party.
“Fortunately, our mom was in a position to get us swimming lessons right after that. Before that, it wasn’t really a priority,” he says. “When you have to think about putting food on a table … or getting swimming lessons, a lot of times for lower income families it falls down the list of things to do. But [swimming] is a life skill and it is important.”
A study by the World Health Organization found that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury or death in children ages 1 to 14 in the U.S. Kids with low socioeconomic status and members of ethnic minorities are even more at risk. So, the idea that launched Tankproof isn’t so random after all.
Plus, offering free lessons accomplishes much more than turning kids into strong swimmers. “We teach kids confidence. For a lot of these kids, swimming is their worst fear. If you can conquer your worst fear, you can do anything. We teach them how to learn. They’re teaching their minds and their bodies something new over the course of five days. That’s not a small feat, especially for a kid. They’re having to mitigate stress and be in adverse situations on their own without their parents’ help,” Thurman explained, adding that what they accomplish in the pool is applied to learning outside the water and throughout life.
“You did this, so you can do anything,” he adds of the confidence boost. “The same principles of learning — consistency, taking the time, getting the reps, being vulnerable and willing to suck for a little bit — all of that is important in the learning process and the growing process.”
Tankproof’s kids also have fun and make memories during the summertime. When Tribeza stopped by the Austin Motel, it was graduation day for the swimmers. The event was filled with uplifting music, cheering instructors, giant flamingo floaties, a large assortment of snacks, and big smiles. The founders hung out on the poolside joking around with everyone, taking pictures and dancing to the tunes.
In the midst of the celebration, the Thomas brothers spoke about Tankproof’s mission, coming to Austin and how this community can be a part of it:
Tribeza: How did Tankproof evolve into what it is today?
Torrence: Initially, we started to design tank tops in an effort to raise money to get kids swimming lessons. Our goal was to raise enough to help 10 kids. In the first year we ended up helping 60. Around the second year we ended up doubling that number to 120. In the third year we ended up doubling that number again. … We decided to lean into it even more and created our own instructor team, including ourselves, and we would teach groups of kids throughout the state of Louisiana. After that, last year we decided to expand to Austin. This is our second year in Austin and it’s going to be our second year going to San Francisco, first year going to Los Angeles, and we’re heading to New York later this fall.
What’s the application process to sign up kids for lessons?
Torrence: We want to make sure our organization serves the communities and kids who need it most. To do that, we ask a series of questions that we use to help us to gauge where the family might be on a financial level or on their financial scale. From those questions we learn a little bit of their makeup, a little bit about their home life and then that helps us to select those kids.
What’s the biggest impact of the Tankproof lessons?
Torrence: Our kids are strong swimmers … One of our kids actually rescued another kid that was drowning at the time. It’s a testament to the quality of our lessons. These aren’t free lessons that are given by people who aren’t experienced; these are excellent instructors … that have come from some of the best swim schools in the country, that have chosen to come work with us to give these kids that extra level of quality and treatment. We’re super happy about the development of our curriculum and how well our kids learn.
Why did you pick Austin for the tour?
Thurman: There’s a strong community here. There’s a strong sense of belonging and there’s a strong pride in the city of Austin … There are a lot of people that are willing to help and there’s so much opportunity to help. This is still one of the most segregated cities in the country. There’s so much inequity here. Couple that with a lot of eyes on the city now … and us being in positions to be able to serve a lot of these inequities and be the connectors and conduits of change.
Torrence: Tankproof is the bridge between resources to communities. A lot of people can’t get their resources to [East Austin] like we can because they don’t have the connections or the relationships. … For anybody that’s reading this, consider partnering with us because if you want to make an impact, you want to make a change in your community, we have the track record to prove it.
How can people in Austin get involved with Tankproof?
Thurman: Go to tankproof.org. There’s an easy way to donate there, it’s very streamlined. We’re also on Cashapp, and Venmo. We just want to make it easy for people to support. We want to make it easy for people to get involved. Also, follow us on Instagram @tankproof. That’s really our biggest resource for getting messaging out.
What do you see in your organization’s future?
Torrence: Tankproof is a tour de force. It’s something that this city will become more and more acquainted with. This country will become more and more acquainted with it. We’re really going do it, not with our mouths but with our hands. You’re going to see more impact; you’re going to see even more opportunities for people to get involved and to serve alongside us and join the Tankproof family … Be on the lookout for the rest of 2021 and in 2022. Follow us, get tapped in, because it’s going to be a wild ride. We hope all of you reading this will be along for the ride with us. Join the wave, baby!