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Swimmers always end up back where they first dove in. Races, after all, start at one end of the pool and finish where they began.
For swim instructors with Newtown’s Parks & Recreation swim lesson program, their entire swimming careers to this point have followed a back-to-the beginning course of sorts. Many of the two-dozen or so instructors, who teach basic and advanced swimming skills to children ranging from babies to middle school students at Treadwell Park throughout the summer, first got in the water for lessons at the same place where they now teach up-and-coming freestylers.
“It’s fun because you can kind of remember what it was like to be in swim lessons. It’s cool to give back, too,” said Assistant Waterfront Director and Water Safety Instructor Abby Fagerholm who, along with some of the other instructors, learned to swim at Treadwell, went through the Torpedoes youth swim program, then brought skills to the lanes at the Newtown High School pool, before returning as instructor aides as teenagers.
Abby Fagerholm’s sister, Carolyn Fagerholm, is the program’s waterfront director, who also teaches lessons. Carolyn says she and the other instructors incorporate some of what they learned almost 20 years ago when they first dipped their toes into the water.
“It’s fun. We talk all the time about what we remember from lessons. Sometimes we bring it into our lessons,” Carolyn said.
An example of this is what another Fagerholm sibling who teaches lessons at the pool, Annika, recalls from her days learning to swim. “Push out the sharks and bring in the fishies,” said Carolyn, explaining what they tell the young swimmers learning to tread water.
There are a variety of lessons and classes offered. A Mommy and Me class is an opportunity for moms to get their babies into the water at an early age. Swim lessons broken into levels 1-6 provide transitions from learning the basics to building on skills and adding strokes. Level 1 is for getting into the water in a shallow pool, level 2 includes going under water in the big pool and learning to float and blow bubbles, level 3 includes treading water, introduction to elementary backstroke, and some diving, level 4 builds off the previous level and adds regular backstroke and breaststroke, levels 5 and 6 continue to build off the preceding levels and prepare swimmers for competition with the Torpedoes.
“We’ve seen leaps and bounds from the beginning of the summer until now,” said Jennifer Zupan, whose daughters Madeline, 5, and Evelyn, 3, are in the early stages of their swimming careers. “These guys do a great job.”
“It’s tons of fun. I really enjoy it. That’s why we’re all here,” Carolyn said. “It’s fun to see them go from not wanting to put their faces in the water to jumping in and being excited about lessons.”
The instructors, who are certified as life guards and stick around after lessons to stay on duty during open swim time, take pride in what they do.
“It’s so important being able to swim. It’s a safety concern. If you’re going to bring your kids to the pool we think it’s important that they know how to swim,” Abby said. “At the same time, it’s fun for the kids. When they learn a new stroke or new skill it’s so cool to see the smiles on their faces.”
“It’s so essential now. There’s no way your kid’s going to go through life and not encounter a pool or lake or something. It’s really a necessary skill,” Carolyn adds.
Abby, a distance freestyle swimmer, graduated from Newtown High in 2013 and went on to compete at Springfield College. Carolyn, also a distance free competitor, who graduated from Newtown High in 2011, studied music at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, sings at Trinity Church, and will continue her education in graduate school at Bowling Green University in Ohio, pursuing a master’s degree in vocal performance.
Hannah Delia, who was a freestyle competitor at Newtown High, and graduated in 2015, is the water safety instructor, and is on her way to becoming to be a teacher, studying elementary education at the University of Maine.
“It fits in pretty perfectly,” Delia said of the connection between working with young swimmers and teaching. “This is the perfect way to practice what I’m learning.”
Delia said she and the other instructors have to learn, like a teacher, how to work with each individual swimmer given the wide range of abilities.
“Obviously, everyone’s strengths are different than each other’s. Not every skill set is the same,” Delia said.
“No kid is going to swim the same way and there’s no generic way to teach a swim lesson,” added Abby, noting that instructors have to break things down differently for each participant.
Abby has two years left in a six-year physical therapy program, and notes that teaching swimming relates to her career path given she is interacting with swimmers and working on motion with them.
It is a family feel in the swimming community given the same instructors are back year after year, and there is strong family representation in the program. Delia is one of five siblings, all of whom swim and went on to teach and become lifeguards. Cameo and Colby Delia also work in the Recreation program.
The Fagerholm contingent features four siblings who partake in swim instruction at Treadwell each summer. Annika and Peter are both life guards and swim instructors. Their dad, Carl Fagerholm, has run the Newtown Torpedoes youth swim program for many years, and mom Mary Beth was a part of getting the children involved at a young age.
“I think that’s where we get our love of swimming. Our mom and dad had us in the water at an early age,” Abby said.
“I consider the Fagerholms some of my closest friends. It’s nice and comfortable. It’s a happy summer environment to come back to every year,” added Delia, who grew up learning to swim down the road in the family pool, but has been involved with the Rec program since before high school.
The program continues to produce instructors who started as learn-to-swim participants. Sean McCleary, a former swim student at Treadwell, is a current swimmer at Newtown High, and is an instructor’s aide, Carolyn notes.
“It’s fun watching the kids improve,” said Andy Braun, another former swimmer at Newtown High, who is a water safety aide in the program and is looking to become certified as an instructor. A long distance freestyle and butterfly competitor with the Nighthawks, Braun graduated in 2015. He has been a part of the Rec program for six years. Braun attends Loyola University in Baltimore, and is studying mechanical and material engineering with a minor in math.
“It’s really cool that we all get to come together in the summer and do this,” Abby said.
“I enjoy it a lot. I’m going to miss coaching when I go to grad school in the fall,” Carolyn adds.