Pool of champions

Jaguar Swim School promotes water safety and skills for all ages

A young swimming student prepares to dive during a lesson.View print quality image
The Jaguar Swim School is designed by the national SwimAmerica learn-to-swim program created by the American Swimming Coaches Association. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Kitty cat-themed swimmer's cap? Check. Pink and purple goggles? Double check. A grin as wide as an Olympic-size pool? Triple check.

Laila Wright, 7, and her little sister, 6-year-old Arielle, were anxiously waiting for their swimming lessons at the IU Natatorium's instructional pool. In fact, they were ready a good 15 minutes before they were allowed to jump in. Earlier in the spring, the girls were less familiar with, perhaps intimidated by, a body of water the size of this pool -- 50 meters long and several swimming lanes wide. It's just paces away from the facility's competition pool, which has hosted the most accomplished swimmers in recent history.

Victoria Wright, Laila and Arielle's mother, said her daughters have become more confident in the pool as she watched them splash around with other elementary school-aged kids before an evening of working on their bobbing, floating and eventually the butterfly stroke under the safe guidance of crimson-clad IU Natatorium instructors. Learning to dive off the starter blocks is an end-of-session goal for the young students.

"I just thought it would be really important for them to learn how to swim," said Victoria Wright as Laila and Arielle started their lesson. "They enjoy being in the water. You always hear of children having issues around the water, so we wanted them to learn water safety."

The Jaguar Swim School hosts lessons for all ages, from infant to adult. Sessions last a month and are available all year. On this night, two groups of young students are learning side-by-side. Preschool children are getting acclimated to the water in one group while the Wright sisters and several other boys and girls are in the learn-to-swim class for ages 5-17.

Wright revealed that her girls have started their second session, and she plans on building upon what they learn in this class. The teacher and registered nurse from Indianapolis said the lessons have taught little Laila and Arielle safety, skills and enthusiasm for the water.

Safety first, second, third ...

Most of the IU Natatorium swim instructors are IUPUI students who have gone through stringent training and certification. They attend classes, take tests and learn the lifesaving techniques of lifeguards while mastering the SwimAmerica curriculum. IUPUI lifeguards are always on duty during the lessons.

Typically, instructors have previous pool experience -- as lifeguards, members of their high school swim team or swim instructors in their hometowns. Taylor Galbari, Jaguar Swim School supervisor and instructor, coached her high school's junior varsity swim team in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

"I just really like working with all of the kids," said Galbari, a junior studying neuroscience. "They love swimming, and they're actually excited to be here."

Galbari has worked with all of the age groups over her two years at the Natatorium. The breakthroughs made by beginning swimmers of all ages help her keep showing up to the pool.

Most of the IU Natatorium swim instructors are IUPUI students who attend classes, learn lifesaving lifeguard techniques and master the SwimAmerica curriculum. Photos by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

The allure of the Natatorium's history and its bustling schedules for the competition pool and diving well are an added bonus. Galbari said parents and students often watch the evening IUPUI swim team practices or diving competitions through a glass wall.

Swimming lessons at the Natatorium have coincided with competitive events. "Students will crane their necks away from the class to watch the really talented athletes coming through from all over the world," Galbari said. "You can watch the meets and see it all."

Entertainment value aside, the swimming education is as much a part of the facility's mission as hosting the next Olympic swimmers and divers.

"Swimming is a life skill," said Katy Shreve, aquatics program manager. "We had a 71-year-old gentleman contact me today about taking lessons. You're never too young or too old, really, to embark on that journey of water safety."

Summer is a busy time for the Natatorium, and the swim lessons attract families from the community into the awe-inspiring facility. The expert instruction and environment win over most patrons.

The Natatorium's instructional pool holds year-round classes for infants, adults and everyone in between. Photos by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

"I think a lot of people realize that this place is special and the history it holds," Shreve said. "They might not realize what a jewel it is when they sign up, but when they walk in for the first time, you can see the awe on their faces."

Benefiting Jags of all ages

It's not every workplace that has an elite swimming facility stocked with expert instructors. Shana Stump, a clinical assistant professor of political science, is one of the many IUPUI staff and faculty members who have taken advantage of the Natatorium's swim lessons. Her daughters Minna, 8, and Maxine, 6, were introduced to the Nat's water when they were babies. They were taught methods to turn upward to easily float and to swim to the pool's wall -- ways to help survive if they fall into water.

The instructional pool is kept at 85 degrees, so even infants and toddlers find comfort as they learn to blow bubbles in the water, kick and float. And if you're an adult needing to learn more than the dog paddle, put on your kitty cat swimming cap and jump in. The water's fine.

"It's really a program for everyone," said Stump, while watching Minna and Maxine work on their freestyle. "I think it's a truly special opportunity."