Dr. Larry Gimple has put a lot of heart into his medical work and teaching children how to swim.
Gimple, an interventional cardiologist at the University of Virginia Health System, said he always wanted to do work that was important, that made a difference and where rapid scientific progress was being made.
“My generation has been really living in the golden age of learning how to treat and prevent heart disease,” he said. “We went from fellow, which is training, people were wondering what caused heart attacks, and now we can dramatically intervene and interrupt heart attacks, prevent heart attacks, treat heart attacks.”
“That’s about as good as it gets in terms of a 30-year career or a 40-year career,” he said.
Gimple, who learned to swim at a YMCA as a child, became involved with the Piedmont Family YMCA when his sons joined the Charlottesville YMCA Aquatics Club swim team.
“My boys were competitive swimmers, but, being in the competitive swimming environment, we quickly learned that there are lots of people who never learn how to swim,” Gimple said.
Through the Jefferson Area Community Survey, completed by UVa’s Center for Survey Research, questions were posed to the community about swimming and learning to swim in 2013.
“They found in our region the same thing that others have found nationally, which is that there are many, many children who never learn how to swim, who are never safe around the water, and there are significant economic and racial disparities among those who never learn how to swim,” Gimple said.
There are parts of the community where 70 percent of the children will never learn to swim, he said, citing the survey, and many parents who never learned how to swim also have children who don’t learn how to swim.
“Because I love to swim, and because my boys always loved to swim, and because it’s dangerous not to know how to swim, we became interested in exploring, learning what we could do in the community to help mitigate that,” he said.
Gimple worked with Jefferson Swim League, Ben Hair-Just Swim For Life Foundation and the YMCA on learn-to-swim programs.
“We have taught thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of kids, who otherwise would not have learned how to swim how to swim, with a focus on the community that would not have otherwise learned to swim,” he said.
“Every kid should learn how to swim, and to not have the opportunity, the exposure, is just sad.”
Gimple’s son was friends with and swam with Ben Hair, who died December 2009 in a car crash. Gordon Hair, president of the BH-JSFL, said Gimple proposed he start the foundation in Ben’s name.
“I look at Larry as he’s either my angel or my mentor or maybe even saved my life; he reached out to me with a lifeline when my son was killed,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone that I would admire, think more of or who would so selflessly give to the community like Larry has thorough others.”
When the foundation began, a group of about 60 community members came together to work on the mission statement for the organization.
“Larry put all of that together and never took credit for anything and would not be a member of the board,” Hair said.
Gimple does, however, serve on the board of the Piedmont Family YMCA, and has for 18 years.
“He’s a big champion of community health and specifically access for low-income, at-risk and underserved populations, and his role on our membership programs and outreach committee directly helps fulfill that mission,” said Jessica Maslaney, CEO of Piedmont Family YMCA.
Gimple worked with the fundraising committee for the Brooks Family YMCA and helped to guarantee a loan for the new facility.
“I think what’s unique about him as a board member is he leads with his heart and he’s very passionate about helping people,” Maslaney said. “That translates in how he engages with us as staff and how he engages with community members and the focus areas he puts his time, energy and money in.”
In addition to learn-to-swim initiative, Gimple has helped to facilitate the C’Ville Walks with Heart program, a walking program with the Y, the UVa Heart and Vascular Center and the UVa Cancer Center.
Since the Brooks Family YMCA has opened, the walking program has expanded outside of the summer months and includes walking on the indoor track at the Y.
Gimple also worked to connect the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program to the UVa Health System.
“You prevent diabetes, you prevent lots of heart attacks,” he said, “Even better than getting up at 2 a.m. and treating them is to prevent them.”