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Swim Clubs: Just Add Water

Local swim clubs and their highly trained staffs offer kids of all ages an opportunity to learn while having fun in a safe environment.

More than half of the human body is composed of water, so it’s no surprise that swimming comes naturally to most – and always feels beneficial.

The Dolphin Swim Club in Crystal Lake is a privately owned school helping younger individuals discover the basics and confidence to learn the innate skill. The club also offers older swimmers health benefits and teaches basic techniques for other swimmers seeking future excellence.

The club caters to all ages ranging from 4 months old up to seniors, including teens. Their program is composed of an eight-level skill set with 30-minute classes.

Currently, the school has mostly 2-year-olds to 7-year-olds enrolled.

“We are a kid-friendly facility with the best teachers in the area and the most progressive programs,” said Sara Batchelor, the facility manager, who is also a coach at the school.

The Dolphin Swim Club has created its own individual program that includes a unique, muscle-relaxing 90-degree temperature pool; four or fewer students per class; and a professional, highly trained staff.

“It’s the perfect learning environment for kids,” she said. “You take out that nervous sense of chilly water or the large classes, and you’re able to engage the students better and get them to really start the learning process quicker,” Batchelor said. “You get them to learn to love swimming.”

Batchelor added that the club focuses on making swimming safe for all.

“We want them swimming correctly, consistently,” she added. “We are a water safety program.”

For 15 years, the school has also provided teenage members, who want to be competitive swimmers, the basics in proper techniques for freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.

“We’re teaching them skills to be able to use in high school if they’re going to go on a swim team and try and get scholarships,” Batchelor added.

Rehabilitation is also offered for seniors and others with injuries.

“The warm water is extremely therapeutic,” she said. “We also use a salt-water system, so it’s gentle on people who may have asthma. And, our pool is only 3-feet-9-inches [deep], so it’s great for water walking.”

It’s Fun to Swim at the Y-M-C-A

McHenry YMCA Piranha Swim Team Coach Mandy Berschneider believes strongly that if you get swimming techniques and fundamentals down, significant improvement in a team is inevitable.

“We have the core YMCA values with our swim team and we’re also U.S.S. (United States Swimming) members,” she said. “We compete against other YMCAs in our district; we’re the Northwest District.”

She added that they compete against local teams, too, like Palatine, and all the way into Chicago. The McHenry YMCA competes all over the country for their U.S.S. meets, as members of that national governing body.

The YMCA said it offers an “enjoyable program that should proceed in a manner that will enhance and improve one’s interest and respect for the sport.” It’s part of a mission statement that has also led to respect from competitors around the area for the Piranhas.

Berschneider said the YMCA is a perfect vehicle for the competitive spirit, while establishing rapport with swimmers. They garner respect through teaching sportsmanship and drive home the goals toward winning.

“We have a great bond with our kids,” Berschneider added.

That altruistic bond has been forged with the diligence of an intense, committed practice schedule.

“You have to practice five to six times a week,” she said. “Our kids are in the water for an hour-and-a-half, five to six times a week. So, our season is very long. We have swim meets on almost every Saturday, and sometimes Sunday.”

Berschneider has seen the practice time help foster many friendships among the swimmers – making the experience enjoyable, too.

“The kids enjoy it,” she said. “They become really good friends.”

Their program also offers a less intense, community-friendly swim lesson option for ages 5 to 18.

“We have all different ages and all different ranges of ability,” Berschneider explained.

As for possibilities of salient future international swimmers coming out of their program, Berschneider remains optimistic, adding, “That would be great – I sure hope so.”

Pooling Future Olympians Together

In the seven years that the McHenry Aquatic Club (MAC) has existed, it has established a family-oriented culture, provided community access for all swim levels, and most impressively, gathered talent in a competitive setting leading to future Olympic hopefuls.

“One of the goals of the club is to be a family,” said Therese Matthys, a current officer and board advisor for the club. “The kids can swim up to five days a week. We like to do things outside of swimming, as well as in the pool.”

MAC has another focused, unwritten mission statement: Expose the advanced, dedicated swimmers to competition with others at the same level.

The team belongs to Illinois Swimming, which competes under the umbrella of U.S.A. Swimming, the organization that rules over competition nationwide and the Olympics. Every tier or level of swimming is present. But if certain swimmers in their club desire a higher level of competition within the meet, they’ll find it.

“When you go to a meet – if you’re a new swimmer – you’re not sticking out like a sore thumb,” Matthys explained. “There are a lot of new swimmers. If you’re an advanced swimmer, you have the competition. So, it’s covering the entire scope of talent.”

Their meets are the perfect environment for exposure to scouts recognizing refined abilities. MAC has produced standouts who have qualified for state.

In 2009, Jonathan Lesniak qualified for state in the 100-yard breaststroke. He finished in the top 11 in the high school meet.

“It was awesome,” Matthys said glowingly of Lesniak’s accomplishment. Lesniak has been swimming with MAC for many years.

“We like to credit a little bit of it from all of the good training he got from our team,” Matthys said confidently.

In summer, the MAC swimmers do a long-course season, swimming 50-meter outdoor pools. In these meets, the team exercises discipline in technique for backstrokes without the benefit of ceiling lines for directing their paths to flags. The Olympic-sized pool is a litmus test for swimmers with natural talents.

The club has produced fundamentally sound swimmers currently on college teams with only the Olympics left to conquer.

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