THE INSPIRATION TO SWIM - my Readers all know about the rowing portion of America Rows and Swims Newburgh, I have been blogging about that for years. But running the swim portion is probably my greatest struggle, in that it is my largest, most-time consuming, money-consuming program, and I receive no financial assistance and have no help running it. So why do I do it?
The story starts when I was taking Christian for weekly swim lessons and almost daily swim laps to what was then the YWCA on Union Avenue, New Windsor. He was about 8 years old. In the lane next to us were two brothers, maybe 12 and 14. They would swim laps relentlessly. Not quite with the precision of the swim team kids but they were clearly talented and would swim non stop. Their “coach” would sit on the floor, leaned up against the wall, and call out directions to them in Spanish. I figured he must be a former swimmer himself. Of course, I started chatting him up in Spanish.
It turns out he was their dad and had learned everything he knew by going to the library. He read up about the four competitive swim strokes, flip turns and every other basic, by going to the library. In fact, the Dad didn’t even know how to swim himself. “Isn’t there some type of free or low cost swim club in Newburgh, where the kids could swim laps every day?” I asked. In NYC, where I had lived for 10 years, swim “clubs” were very popular. For a nominal fee, anyone from child to adult could get in the pool and swim laps with their club as much as they wanted, without the competitive element. The answer was no.
The Dad’s plan was to get the kids really good at swimming so that it would one day become their ticket to college. Look at the Big One, everyone would say, he’s the one who’s going to make it. The Little One, he’s a little bit chubbier and a little bit slower. Actually, I would tell the other observers, you never know. There’s something about the Little One, he’s got a drive, I think he might be the one to really make it.
We started spending less time at the pool. Christian started playing soccer, then moved on the Bluefish swim team, and most famously, then the Newburgh Rowing Club. By the time I came back with Michael for swim lessons, the boys were gone. I always wondered what ever happened to those two brothers.
Flash forward 7 years to 2015. I have resurrected the Hudson Valley Bluefish, the swim team started by Coach Kennedy decades ago, as a low cost swim club run by America Rows and Swims Newburgh. Not a team, mind you, but a swim club and water confidence clinic. It’s $125.00 for the whole summer and, if the parents show me they live below the federal poverty level, which the majority of my kids do, then they receive financial aid and their cost is whatever money they can put in the coffee can that week.
Thanks to the Union Avenue Community Fitness Center (formerly the YWCA) giving us a deeply reduced rate, I am able to rent the pool Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons. I have a paid staff of eleven: 4 swim coaches and 7 lifeguards/ instructors. Out of 70 kids, 60 of them have demonstrated financial need and participate in the youth swim club for free. It costs $1,800.00 per month to run the program. I receive no grant money, no donations, no corporate sponsors. We need more kids to sign up for the program, that is our main source of revenue (www.RowSwimNewburgh.org to signup!). Without the signups, we take to the “can” -- we pass the coffee can at swim club and I ask everyone to put in at least $2.00 per swimmer, and the swim clubbers come out to Quick Check and Shop Rite to hold fundraisers (i.e. “coin drops”) on a regular basis. All of which is tremendous work on the administrative side.
Almost every week, I say to my family, “this is it. I’m done with the swim program. I can’t keep doing all the work and all the fundraising, I can’t do this anymore. I spend all my time on this swim program.” And every week, Christian, who loves getting in the pool and volunteering with the little kids says to me, “but don’t you always say you’re saving lives? This is the highlight of the week for these little kids.”
And he’s right, we are saving lives. None of these kids would be water confident or be swimming if it weren’t for this program.
Recently, I saw our Head Coach, Frankie Maurice, talking to the young guy who comes to the pool to help his mom cleanup. “Mrs. Lo, do you know Joe Galan?” said Frank. Of course, I knew the name, he was in the newspaper every week during swim season, one of the best swimmers NFA every produced. What ever happened to him?
“This is him, this is Joe Galan,” said Frank. The janitor? I thought Joe Galan was swimming at college. It turned out he was taking an extended break this semester.
I looked at the famous Joe Galan. He smiled his big happy smile. I knew this kid. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Did you and your brother used to swim laps here every day, years ago, with your dad,” I asked him.
“Yep, that’s me” he said. “I remember you, Mrs. Lo.”
“Just tell me one thing,” I said. “Are you the Little One or the Big One?”
“I’m the Little One,” he laughed.
Joe Galan is my newest and most enthusiastic swim coach and Mrs. Lo has officially come full circle. The swim program is “killing me,” time-wise and money-wise but I keep doing it because I love it and these kids are awesome. I am praying for a miracle, which would be more kids signing up for the low-cost swim club -- www.RowSwimNewburgh.org, then click on Hudson Valley Bluefish, or more sponsorships. I am currently not taking anymore scholarshiped swimmers as we have hit capacity on that front. If you would like to help, either send someone to signup their kid for our program, or sponsor a swimmer, the $125.00 is tax deductible.
That’s my swim story. Have a great day, everyone and, as always, remember to Count Your Blessings! <3 Mrs. Lo, go to our Facebook page to watch some of the swim videos … www.Facebook.com/RowSwimNewburgh
Signup at www.RowSwimNewburgh.org, click on the link for “Hudson Valley Bluefish” or email firstname.lastname@example.org.