Author: Benjamin Harrell
Teaching people to be safe in the water is at the core of everything SwimRVA does. The students that make up the SwimRVA Swim School are integral in making our goal to Drownproof Richmond a reality. Their safety is important to fulfilling the mission of SwimRVA. They create a community that is safe and supportive in and around the water.
Throughout the year coaches and staff suggest students that show extra effort in bettering themselves Learning to swim can be difficult. Seeing someone in a similar situation overcome an obstacle can be the push they need! Their stories motivate other members of the community to continue pursuing their SwimRVA Swim School graduation! Check out some of the many SwimRVA Swim School students that have made a huge impact on the community.
Nicky has transitioned from SwimRVA Swim School lessons to the SwimRVA Rapids Swim Team via the Autism Swims program! “This has been something we have been gradually building towards over the last year. It started with me writing his workouts down on a board and having him read off what he would be swimming, as the athletes on the swim team do.”
One week, Coach Jacob told Wayne (Nicky’s dad) that he was going to try a practice where Nicky was swimming in his lane. “I wanted to see if he could do different drills and strokes without me physically manipulating his movement in the water. He did well and got used to being the swimmer and me being the coach instead of us swimming together. At that point, I told Wayne to bring Nicky to the next Novice practice and I would invite him to swim.”
Joining the team for practice was a huge step for Nicky, and his trust in Coach Jacob made the transition a lot easier. After introducing him to the teammates at practice that day, he swam the entire practice! “Nicky adjusted to different sets by watching the other swimmers and following their lead. At the end of the day, he was a part of the breakdown where we cheered ‘Rise up Rapids’ and was involved in the entire practice!”
SwimRVA is very proud of how far Nicky has come and cannot wait to see him get more involved in the team and his swimming career.
Jaiyanna started her journey with SwimRVA in the instructional pool as a student in the SwimRVA Learn-to-Swim program! Her mother said that her progression has been amazing. After the Learn-to-Swim session ended, her family signed her up for SwimRVA Swim School. Her grandmother explained that once Jaiyanna saw the kids racing, she was hooked. “She couldn’t wait to swim with the older kids on the swim team.” Soon after graduating from SwimRVA Swim School, her goal was realized. She is now a member of the SwimRVA Rapids Swim Team!
Arianna joined the SwimRVA Swim School community over the summer, and after getting used to the new pool and coaching team shes has been floating through the stations!
When Ariana first came to take lessons, she was understandably shy. Coming to an unfamiliar environment and taking orders from strange adults around new kids can be overwhelming for kids in the beginning. “She cried on the first night of lessons, didn’t want to get in the water, didn’t want to meet the teachers or anything,” her mother explained.
It took a little time for her to open up, but now Arianna’s mother says swimming has become a new favored hobby! “She loves it. I think [swimming] opened her up because she’s a little shy. It’s been another great outlet for her to engage with something she loves. She looks forward to swimming class each week, and it brings out a different side of her.”
Now on Station 7 of SwimRVA Swim School, Arianna’s change in confidence has been like night and day. She comes right into lessons and doesn’t need her mother to reassure her in the water. “She just jumps in and gets to work. It’s great seeing her engage, and to be okay letting go [of fear].”
Loni is in the Swim School Spotlight! Her hard work in the pool has not only helped her reach new levels in swimming but also guided her to her new favorite form of exercise! “This isn’t available everywhere, for adults. It’s been life-changing for me.”
Loni’s previous experience with swimming motivated her to get back in the water to finish training. “I already knew how to swim before I got here, but I just want swimming to be my fitness moving forward. I’m a registered nurse, my knees hurt. I’m not the type of person that would exercise on the treadmill per-say. Everyone has their niche, and I just love the water.”
When asked why the water is so special, she explained how easy it was for her to fall back into it. “Swimming isn’t a chore for me. Anything you enjoy, you put a lot of effort into it. I feel very accomplished.”
Loni’s aquatic journey did have a few bumps along the road, but she stuck with it and worked through her obstacles until they became strengths. “Initially, [backstroke] was my hardest skill because I have to be submissive in water. One thing about learning as a child vs being an adult, to them it’s all fun, but for adults, you know about drowning and how it only takes 2 tablespoons of water to drown.”
About Jacob G and the SwimRVA Swim School team, Loni had wonderful things to say. “I love Jacob! He’s a professional baton twirler and told him every time I pass a station he has to twirl, and he did it! It helps that we have wonderful teachers that motivate you. Everybody that I’ve had has been phenomenal.”
Maria is in Station 4 of Preschool Lessons and is working very hard to graduate into the School Age lessons! Maria’s journey in SwimRVA Swim School is special because English is not her first language! She doesn’t let this dampen her will to learn. Her mother said she’s always loved the water and looks forward to every practice.
Her coaches work to make sure she understands exactly what needs to be done to succeed in the water, despite the language differences. One coach, Coach Deborah even started learning Spanish to help bridge the gap in lessons! “My daughter loves it because she can communicate easier. Of course, the other coaches demonstrate for her and she learns fine, but with Coach Deborah, Maria came to me and said ‘Mommy, Mommy she’s speaking Spanish!’ It made a big difference.”
Herman joined SwimRVA Swim School as a secret from his family! “He wanted to surprise his family on vacation and show that he can swim too,” explained Coach Jacob G. When he first began lessons, Herman had a huge fear of the water. “I was afraid of it.” Fortunately, he didn’t let his fear stop him from learning! Even after the vacation, he stuck with it. “All of my kids knew how to swim, and I got tired of being the guy sitting on the edge of the pool all the time.”
Now Herman is in Station 4 with only two skills left to go! “I’m working on my freestyle stroke and the rollover. It’s like a barrel roll, a safety procedure in case you fall into the water so you can adjust yourself and get your bearings.”
He credits both the SwimRVA staff and other students for his progression. “Everybody has been great. The other students are motivating.”
Amyra, Anaiza, and Bansi
Amyra, Anaiza, and Bansi are all in Station 6 of SwimRVA Swim School. When you see them in the water playing and learning together you’d think they were best friends, and you’d be right! The three girls were friends before joining SwimRVA Swim School, so after hearing about Anaiza taking lessons, learning as friends was naturally a great idea! “They love it,” said Anaiza’s mom. “My daughter waits for them before every lesson.” You can find the mothers sitting together too, catching up watching the children enjoying themselves each class.
Coach Jacob pointed out how their friendship has helped the girls during lessons. “They encourage each other to move through their skills. If one girl passes a station, you could expect the other two to pass soon.” Way to go, Amyra, Anaiza, and Bansi. Only one more station to go until you’ve graduated SwimRVA Swim School!
Way to go, Ashanti! After all of your hard work in Swim School, You have graduated and will continue to the SwimRVA Rapids Swim Team! Ashanti started at the beginning of Swim School with her brother, Ayden. Her determination to graduate increased after Ayden finished and moved on to the Rapids first.
Juliana is an exceptional example of reaching success at SwimRVA. She flew through SwimRVA Swim School after reaching Station 5 and is excelling with the SwimRVA Rapids! “She also participates in gymnastics, which demonstrates the ideal swim-life balance of a Rapids Swimmer.” – SwimRVA Rapids Coaches.
“Maisey would ball every time she would get in the water, now she just gets in and is good to go!” – Coach Kris. She’s now in Station 2 working hard without fear!
Jaila graduated during the makeup classes this week! Jaila has been a dedicated student in Swim School for some time. She started in Station 1 very hesitant to fully trust herself in the water. After about a year of swim lessons, she’s now able to complete all necessary skills and swim strokes needed to progress in the swimming world.
To add on to the good news, Jaila has announced that she will be swimming for SwimRVA this season as a SwimRVA Rapid! She may be new to the swim team, but Jaila has been an important member of SwimRVA for a while now. “I remember signing up Jaila for Swim School! I’m so happy for her.” – Gerard (Communications Manager).
Congratulations again, Jaila, and continue to #SwimForIt with all of your future goals!
Tomas and Ricardo
Tomas Z and Ricardo G are both one skill away from passing Station 6! They’ve been working very hard since starting Swim School this summer, and the coaches have seen a big improvement in their performance.
“Tomas and Ricardo are moving through lessons lately,” said Coach Kris. Coach Kris helps run the pool deck during SwimRVA Swim School, and looks over each swimmer to see if they are ready to ring the Bell of Success! “The last thing they are working on is extended freestyle and making sure they are doing three full pulls before they go to breathe. They haven’t completely mastered it yet, but they’re getting better at keeping their heads flat when they turn to breathe and timing it just right.”
While skills are getting passed quickly now, Ricardo and Tomas had to show true perseverance, in the beginning, to get where they are now. “Ricardo passed Station 5 at the end of June and has hit the ground, well pool, running! Tomas finished Station 5 a little later and caught up to his buddy, so now they are helping each other finish Station 6! I love that they both usually come in with a smile.”
Ricardo used to struggle with his back kick and dolphin kick, which slowed his progression. “Adding the arms and legs was a real challenge for him,” said Kris, “but he’s been a real champ and keeps an upbeat attitude the whole time!” Tomas had a slower grind. He didn’t get stuck in one particular area but instead worked hard until, slowly but surely, he mastered each skill leading up to the final test of Station 6. Dani, our Administrative Coordinator, meets all the Swim School kids when she helps them check-in before class. She has seen Tomas and Ricardo’s progression firsthand from the Swim School check-in desk!
Mia and Zoe
Zoe S and Mia M are in the spotlight for their persistence and integrity in the pool! Mia and Zoe originally came to join the SwimRVA Rapids swim team but needed to work on a few skills to be fully ready. Instead of giving up, they took up the challenge to improve and enrolled in SwimRVA Swim School!
One of the benefits to the SwimRVA Swim School station-based program is that you’re able to start where you need to be, which may not necessarily be the beginning! Thanks to Zoe’s prior swimming experience, she was able to test into Station 4 to work on those last few skills before becoming a Rapid! “Right now, Zoe is improving her Side-Glide Kick and Freestyle skills,” said Coach Kris. “I’m inspired by her motivation to get to the next level of swimming.”
Mia was also able to test ahead! She is in Station 5 working on her backstroke skill and proper breathing during the freestyle. “She just got into the water and used a setback as her fuel to get better quicker!” With her focus on end goal, we’ll be seeing Mia in a SwimRVA Rapids uniform very soon!
Tatianna joined SwimRVA Swim School after bringing her children to their swimming lessons! Her sons, Alex and Diego, were featured earlier this year for their persistence in the water. After a few weeks of watching on the sidelines, Tatianna was ready to join in on the learning fun! “Tatianna has caught up to Station 5 and is now learning along with kids [Alex and Diego],” said Coach Jacob. “She is just as coachable as her sons.”
Her optimism and willingness to learn have made her a star student in the program. “Oftentimes, adults feel like they’re too grown to learn somersaults and handstands. Tatianna is never above learning any of the skills; she’s happy to learn and try new things, and always excited to be there.” – Coach Jacob.
Jonathan passed Station 2 of Preschool after dedicating time to practice in and out of SwimRVA Swim School! He joined SwimRVA Swim School with his sister, Kara, and while she soared through the lessons, Jonathan needed some extra time to warm up to everything. “He’s very shy,” said Coach Jacob, “so it was hard to get him to open up.”
Once his parents signed him up for private lessons to get him over the hump of being too self-aware, his personality started to shine through. “He started smiling and having fun when he returned to group lessons. It was easy for Coach Delaney to roll over what they learned in private lessons in the group classes.”
It took about six private lessons with Coach Delaney to strengthen up a few skills. One skill, in particular, was floating on his back. The floating sensation made him uneasy at first, so he wouldn’t relax his neck and wanted to sit up, which stopped him from being able to float.
Jakhari is in the SwimRVA Swim School Spotlight for his determination to succeed! Jakhari is in Station 1 working on fundamental skills, like being comfortable underwater and blowing bubbles submerged, that are important for succeeding in more complex stations in future lessons!
“He gets very excited, so he’s working very hard with being patient and putting the skills together,” Coach Jacob explained. “He never gives up, and you can see the pure joy he has for playing and learning in the water.”
Matthew has passed Station 1! He originally began SwimRVA Swim School terrified of the water. After some encouragement by the coaches n the pool and parents at home, he overcame the fear and is one his way to learning floating, turning, and more in Station 2!
“He would start crying as soon as he had to go underwater, and we could barely get him to want to get in the water. His transformation into a kid who is excited to learn each lesson is amazing.” – Coach Jacob
Landon has one last skill left before he finished Station 4! He’s been a SwimRVA Swim School student since March. Like many students, Landon started lessons a little apprehensive about the water, but his mother, Tasha, expressed how the SwimRVA Swim School curriculum works well for her son’s personality.
“I like that the instructors are hands-on and patient with him, because he’s very shy, so it gives him time to work at his pace. At first, he didn’t want to get in the water, but now he’s doing flips and other skills!” While he still has three more Stations to pass, Landon and his mom are very optimistic about his swimming journey. “I’ll feel great! This has been an amazing thing for him.”
The Adult Lessons Crew
The SwimRVA Swim School adult lessons crew has become their community of support in the water! They meet up every Tuesday and Thursday for lessons and give each other pointers when they can.
“Adult lessons overall have been pretty awesome,” said Coach Griff. “A couple of our adult students who are now in our higher stations, have grown together as a group.” Many of the adults started learning around the same time as one another. “Most of the adults in Stations 5+ began in Station 2 together, so they have a group goal to finish together. During lessons, they’ll help each other through rough patches while the coaches are helping someone else.”
After lessons end, a few will even stay behind to work on their skills in their own time! Loni and Michelle are part of the crew that helps each other! Their personalities make them shining stars in the bunch. “Michelle is very attentive, she likes close detail. She’s very positive and comes in and gets the job done. Loni always comes in with a smile. She’s always laughing and having fun, making sure everyone else is having fun even if she’s nervous. She could be very nervous to try something new, but will use that opportunity to make someone smile before she dives headfirst into the situation.”
Thienquan started in Preschool lessons and hit the water ready to go! Thienquan graduated from the Preschool program, despite having a language barrier. He didn’t speak English, but he didn’t let that stop him. With his brother, Minhthai’s help, he overcame the barrier with ease!
“His brother would translate for us and he showed tremendous progress in the Preschool program and graduated in only 2 months!”
He is now in Station 4 finishing up perfecting his last two skills before advancing to Station 5!
Eugene started taking adult lessons with SwimRVA Swim School to solidify his swimming technique and increase his endurance in the water. “He knew how to swim, but could only make it to about half a pool length.” – Coach Jacob.
After informing his coaches of his goal to compete in triathlons, they helped condition him for more rigorous training like the SwimRVA Hammerheads! The SwimRVA Hammerheads is a comprehensive swim training program for adults that includes everything from stroke technique workouts for beginners to open water interval sessions and demanding pool workouts for more experienced swimmers.
“I’ve been writing mini practices on a whiteboard and set it up in front of his lane. He pretty much follows the practice sets on his own with us watching over to make sure he’s all set!” – Coach Jacob. In about a month, Eugene went from barely making it halfway down a pool lane to swimming 500 meters every lesson! Way to #SwimForIt!
Naomi is passing SwimRVA Swim School at an amazing pace! In just a few classes, she finished most of Station 4. She passed her side glide, front flips, backflips, crawl stroke, finning, and sculling in one day! “She’s been on a mission to pass from day one! We love the energy she brings to classes.” – Coach Jill. Way to #SwimForIt, Naomi! Keep up the momentum as you head into Station 5.
Braden has been working hard in Station 5! His double somersault is getting better and better! In Station 4 students are only required to complete one somersault, but in Station 5, swimmers need to complete two full turns underwater!
“Braden is working on his breath control while underwater,” explained Coach Jacob. “Many kids straighten out after their first flip instead of staying curled up, which gets them stuck underwater. “ Once Braden completes his Double Somersaults and Side Breathing, he’ll be on to Station 6!
Leah and Lailah
Leah and Lailah joined SwimRVA Swim School together as sisters!“Leah and Lailah come in with amazing attitudes for every lesson! They can be quiet at times, but their effort and determination to pass speak for them!” – Coach Jacob
After about four months in School-Age lessons, Leah and Lailah are close to graduating! Leah started lessons first. She’s now on Station 7 perfecting her breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle, and butterfly! Lailah started a couple of months later and hit the pool swimming. She is now right behind her sister in Station 6!
Follow us for the latest! #SwimForIt!
The Mission of SwimRVA is to elevate swimming in the Richmond region making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all. We promise to serve as a catalyst for regional aquatics and community-wide focus on water safety, health and fitness, sports tourism, and competitive aquatics. Donate today to help support our mission