Story last updated at 4:56 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Kachemak Swim Club spawns ambition in young athletes

Learning to crawl

by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: sports

  Photo by Chris Bernard, Homer News
Club swimmers take to the pool at the start of a race during last week's season-opening meet at Soldotna High School. Almost 40 KSC swimmers competed in the pentathlon event.  
Since the mid-1970s, the Kachemak Swim Club has been keeping Homer's children afloat.

The skills learned in swimming can translate outside the pool, as well, both in other athletic pursuits and in everyday activities.

"Swimming teaches discipline," said Lucy Mahan, KSC head coach. "I know a lot of parents see swimming as a way to keep kids on track, to keep them away from drugs and alcohol."

Kachemak Swim Club also acts as a feeder program for the Homer High School Mariners swim team, said Bridget Kuhns. Kuhns was a KSC coach from 1989 until last year when she took over the reins of the high school team.

"I don't think there's anybody on our record board or who has been on a leader list at regionals who hasn't been a KSC swimmer," she said. "It's helped build the strong end of the program, and it gives the kids an opportunity to swim in the offseason."

The program teaches swimming to children beginning at age 5 and stretching through high school. Begun by Fran Cronin and her son, Bill, the swim club originated out of a need for swimming lessons for Homer children.

"Parents were nervous around the water, and wanted their kids to know how to swim," said Mahan.

Since then, the program has grown considerably and boasts more than 30 alumni who have gone on to swimming success in college, conference championships and on a national level.

KSC is broken down into age divisions. The oldest, Seniors, is for high school swimmers; Age Group is for swimmers age 9 or 10 to about 14 years old, with an emphasis on technique and competition; and Novice is for kids age 8 to about 13, with a focus on the beginnings of techniques.

Almost 10 years ago, a Dolphin division was added as a learn-to-swim program for the younger children, Mahan said.

"Kids as young as 5 can begin swimming if they're comfortable in the water and can swim the width of the pool," she said. "By the time they graduate, they will have been exposed to dives and to the four strokes (crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly)."

The instructional approach differs a little from the traditional American Red Cross swimming program, which teaches more of a survival-oriented swim, Mahan said. KSC emphasizes more competitive swimming.

"One of our main focuses is having fun in the water, getting the kids comfortable with the water," she said. "There are so many building blocks in any sport, and swimming is no different. If you're not comfortable with the water, if you don't know how to breathe, if you're not aware of your body, it's going to be difficult to unlearn when you're older."

photo: sports

  Photo by Chris Bernard, Homer News
Dylan Hitchcock-Lopez competes in the 50-yard breaststroke in Soldotna.  
Mahan grew up in Anchorage, and has been swimming since she was 6. Her four children all went through the Kachemak Swim Club. A former gymnast, she said swimming involves a lot of gymnastics.

"We try to reinforce that in the water," she said. One way to do that is to teach a lot of cross training, including gymnastics, yoga and even dance.

"A lot of the kids who are good swimmers have that body awareness," she said. "Swimming used to be the power stroke, but now it is more of a ballet. The more comfortable you are with your body, your balance, the less effort it is going to take to get down the pool."

Swimming develops certain muscles, she said. To help develop the rest of the muscle system, KSC coaches have turned to cross-training. Cross-training also helps develop rhythm, which is crucial to good competitive swimming.

"Some kids are music oriented, and you talk to them about the 'symphony of their stroke,'" she said. "Other kids like basketball, so you focus on teaching rhythm with a bouncing ball, for example. A big part of it is finding ways to keep the kids interested."

In addition to Head Coach Mahan, each division has its own coaches. Susie Malone coaches Age Group two and Seniors; Tara Schmidt coaches Novice two and Dolphins; Shannon Haws coaches Novice one, and helps out with the Dolphins, as do assistant coaches Rita Wettach and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.

The club is overseen by a six-member board comprised of swim parents. The board handles the administrative work for the club and much of the fund-raising.

Kachemak Swim Club recently obtained a permit for pull-tabs, and has several other fund-raisers to help offset the cost to the swimmers.

"The parents are very involved with their kids, but it's a small town with a drug and alcohol problem," Mahan said. "How do you keep your kids on track? The kids help each other, they have a connection with each other. They're all striving to be the top dog. They help each other with homework and things like that. Swimming is good for them.

"One of our goals is that, when these kids are 40, they still enjoy swimming," she said. "It's also a great way to meet other kids, traveling around the peninsula and swimming with the same kids over and over."

Currently, KSC has more than 100 swimmers on the roster, which will likely increase when the high school season ends and the Homer Mariners return to the club.

Almost 40 KSC swimmers traveled to Soldotna last weekend for the season-opening meet. The next meet is at home, Nov. 15-16, at the Homer High School pool.

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homernews.com.

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