Home News Local news Not for Profit: St. Thomas Swimming Association

Not for Profit: St. Thomas Swimming Association

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Jan. 28, 2007 — The sun shines brightly, the crystal-clear pool sparkles and the eight miniature swimmers each extend one finger to instructor Georgeann Merrill, who, taking their fingers, says, "Now, three, two, one — jump."
Members of the preschool swim class, sporting bright orange life jackets, are about to graduate from their first session on the way to becoming real swimmers, sans life jackets.
It's Saturday morning, and Kathy Huttel and Yvonne Freeman look on like two content mother hens. Huttel has been the driving force behind the pool project for the past 20 years. She has had the backing of St. Thomas Swimming Association board president Freeman, a 16-year member, and the rest of the board.
It's been a long journey, fraught with pitfalls, even after construction on the pool started. (See "New St. Thomas Pool Two Decades in the Making.") Today the 25-meter, Olympic-size pool gleams in the distance, set off from the road in Estate Nazareth.
With the excitement of the pool opening wearing off, Huttel says, "It's real now; we are down to business." The swimming lessons started Nov.6, the first Saturday after the opening. One of the first orders of business, she says, is the long-awaited opportunity to send the STSA Stingray swim team to compete on St. Croix.
"It's so exciting," Huttel says. "We are in the process to enter the national federation as a member club." For years, the STSA Stingrays couldn't compete with the St. Croix Dolphins of Good Hope School, which has a 50-meter pool, because they had nowhere to practice on St. Thomas. "We hope to complete before summer," Huttel says. "We will have several opportunities with novice teams."
The children of both women have grown up swimming on the Stingrays team.
STSA's focus has remained constant from the start: to teach local children to swim in a non-threatening environment, protected from the elements. Having taught STSA lessons at Magens Bay for years, Huttel long recognized the need for a pool for adults as well as children, for both exercise and rehabilitation. The youngsters are now ready to move from the three-foot to the five-foot deep section of the pool. But not without some doing.
A trio of instructors — Liz Davis, STSA aquatics director, volunteer Merrill and lifeguard Tenisha James — herd their young charges out of the pool and up on the side for their graduation: a jump into the five-foot deep water.
More easily said than done, it turns out. "Now, I want you to stand at the edge of the pool and hug the side here with your toes," Merrill says. "No, you can't sit down," she chides one youngster. "Stand up like the others." The kids, one by one do as Merrill instructs, as Davis and James await the youngsters.
Three-year-old Jada Lake has a terrible time. She clearly wants to be anywhere but here, and has been whimpering since she started. But, on command, she jumps in just like her playmates, and — voila! — she floats. But, after a brief smile, it's business as usual.
"It's the depth of the water," Huttel says. "She doesn't want to stand on her tippy toes. She started with me at the beach when she was two, and she was in my arms, and that's where she preferred to stay. The difference is at the ocean, the surf can knock them over. You can't control that, so you hold them in your arms so the waves won't knock them over. The kids work out their fears in the swim program."
Even after conquering her fear of the five-foot water, Jada is clearly delighted to see her mother, Glenda Lake. "Are you coming back?" she asks Jada. "No." The mother smiles knowingly, and waves goodbye
Tenisha James, the lifeguard and an 18-year-old junior at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, is the youngest of the three instructors. "She is our success story," Freeman says. "Tenisha is tenacious."
James came to try out for a lifeguard spot, but couldn't swim the required 20 laps. "She came and practiced with us every day for two weeks, and now she is qualified," Freeman says.
James, a tall, attractive girl with a swimmer's build, couldn't be happier. "Yes," she says. "I love it very much. I get to work on weekends and after school."
The STSA offers lessons from the under threes to adult classes, plus an aquacise shallow-end water-aerobics class designed for non-swimmers, and private lessons. The adult classes include mainly women, Huttel says, and the private lessons include primarily men. The organization even offers classes for infants six months or older, taught with parents. See below for a complete schedule of times and fees.
Gazing at the youngsters as they earn their chops are Penny and Dave Estes, Davis' parents, down from chilly Pennsylvania for a visit. Davis was introduced at the pool's grand opening by Freeman, who told the crowd how fortunate the STSA was to have Davis: "We chose her out of four others, and she hit the ground running."
"Liz was a water baby, from the first time we put her in a pool as a six-month-old," Penny Estes says. "She coached at Yale, and was aquatics director at a YWCA before coming down here."
Davis has a big job as aquatics director. She is responsible for running the day-to-day operation, as well as jumping in and teaching. Huttel, who resigned as executive director last year, says Davis has taken over many of her former duties. Huttel has moved to the board as secretary.
Another lifeguard waves as he walks by. "That's Ovid Williams," says Huttel. "He was my student at Magens when he was three years old." Huttel has watched dozens of youngsters grow through the program. The STSA has provided swimming lessons, competitive training and aquatic certification to more than 9000 residents of St. Thomas and St. John.
Anybody can come to the pool to swim in the afternoons before three and in the mornings from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. "They have to sign a waiver about their physical condition, and it costs $5," Freeman says.
Right now, the office sits under a white tent.
"We're still a work in progress," Huttel says. "We need a bookkeeper and office staff. We're still expanding. We want to go from a staff of four or five employees to a dozen." Right now, she says, they have three lifeguards, a paid instructor and gatekeepers "and a lot of volunteers."
Like all not for profits, STSA can always use help. "We get by on fees from the pool and fund-raising," Huttel says. "And we are working with the government a little bit."
The pool couldn't have gotten started without the $125,000 donation from Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, Huttel says. The official name of the pool is a mouthful: the Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises Community Aquatic Center.
The Stingrays swim team is foremost on Huttel's mind right now. "It's fun," she says, "it's exciting. We have 38 members already, and we want more." Anyone can come try out for the team with Davis between 3 and 3:30 p.m. For more information, call Davis at 779-7872.
A complete schedule of lessons, times and prices follows. There is a 50 percent discount for senior citizens for the aquacize classes, and the first week is free:
— Aquacise: Shallow-End Water Aerobics designed for non-swimmers (45 minutes, M/W/F, $126 per session starting 1/8/07)
— Adult Lessons: For Beginner Non-Swimmers (45 minute group lesson once a week, $42 per session starting 1/8/07)
— Private Lessons: For all abilities and ages. You pick the time, length and the frequency (2 hours worth of lessons, starting 1/8/07)
— Intermediate Lessons: For children 7-12 years old of all abilities (45-minute group lesson once a week, $4
2 per session starting 1/6/07)
— Preschool Lessons: For children 3-6 of all abilities (30-minute group lesson once a week, $42 per session starting 1/6/07)
— Parent/Child Lessons: For children 6 months to 3 years, taught with parents (30 minute group lessons once a week, $42 per session starting 1/6/07)
— Adult Lap Swimming: Exclusively adults 7-9 a.m., 12-2 p.m., 4-5 p.m. (Mondays-Saturdays, $85 per month starting 1/2/07)
— Swim Team: For children 5-18 who can swim a complete lap and want to compete** (M-S 1-1 ½ hour practice*, $80/month starting 1/8/07)
(There will be a one time VISF fee of $10 and annual STSA dues of $50)
*Swim Team practice days and times depend on assigned practice group
** Swim Team tryouts ongoing; please contact Liz Davis, Aquatics Director at 340-779-STSA (7872).
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