DENVER (KDVR) — A grieving Colorado mother is turning her pain into purpose after her 13-year-old son drowned in a hotel pool in May while on a sports trip with his team. She’s now urging other parents to teach their kids to swim in a unique way.
For Marquita Mays, the tragedy feels just like yesterday, and she wants to stress the importance of learning how to swim. Now, at the corner of Iliff Avenue and South Parker Road, a special billboard is running in honor of her son and a message for all to see.
Learning to swim could mean the difference between life and death.
“Teach your kids to swim,” Mays cried.
Tragically, 13-year-old Darryl Blackmon couldn’t swim, and his life was cut short. He was a big boy, standing tall at 5 feet 11 inches with big dreams of playing football at Louisiana State University and one day in the NFL. Blackmon’s biggest fan was his mother, who never missed a chance to watch her star on the field.
“Every day I replay it. Every day,” Mays cried. “What happened, how did this happen, why did this happen?”
‘When I came back, they were doing chest compressions’
Football is what brought Blackmon and his mother to Phoenix in May. The teen played with the Colorado Jr. Buffs football team and went to Arizona for the championship game. The team won and celebrated at the hotel pool. Mays said she drove her son to Arizona and was there the entire time. She said everything changed in just 13 minutes.
“I walked across the street to get him tacos and when I came back, they were doing chest compressions,” Mays recalled with tears rolling down her face.
Mays said her baby was found lifeless in 8 feet of water. Blackmon was taken to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where he later died. Mays said her son could not swim and the deepest water he would go in was 5 feet.
Missing her son every day, Mays wishes she’d taught him to float, tread water, anything to bring him back.
“I just want that message out there,” Mays said. “I don’t want mothers to feel this ever.”
‘Teach children how to swim’
Now a reminder is lighting up on an electronic billboard on Illif and South Parker. When people drive or walk by, they’ll see Blackmon’s picture with a message that reads, “Teach children how to swim. Darryl Blackmon was a great kid & football player who drowned from not knowing how to swim”
“If I can save somebody else’s child, that’s my intention: to help save somebody else’s child,” Mays said.
As she and Blackmon’s aunt stand staring at the billboard on Friday evening with tears streaming, they hope that maybe, just maybe, there’s a silver lining.
“He always told me that, ‘They’re going to know about me, mom. I’m going to be all over one day. They’re going to know all about me,'” Mays explained. “So I feel like in a sense they’re knowing about him.”
The billboard has been running since Monday and will be up at another location next week. In total, it will run for one month. Mays said she is just getting started. She’s also creating a foundation in her son’s honor that will soon offer swimming lessons to kids and CPR training.