Swim for Life

Water Safety is for Everybody at the Wayne YMCA

Article by Don Seaman

Photography by Manny Liwanag

Originally published in Wayne Lifestyle

If you’ve ever seen a kid in your neighborhood with the words, “Eat my bubbles!” written in Sharpie somewhere on their body, they’re not an enthusiast of soapy water and plastic wands. That’s full-on swim team trash talk, and in Wayne, there’s no shortage of teams to taunt. One of those teams, the Blue Streaks, calls the pool at Wayne’s YMCA home. 

Swimming goes way back in Y history. In fact, the first organized swim lessons were created at a YMCA in 1909  (Some quick math — if you were a member of that first swim lesson, you’d be very, very old today). All the swim lessons seen today are based on what the Y started. That history lives on today. At the Wayne YMCA, they call it “Swim for Life.” 

Swimming is indeed a life skill, and it’s one that they take very seriously at the Wayne Y. Aquatic Director Sam Hassan is quick to point out what sets their program apart. “We go from 0 to 100. We start from the very, very beginning — you’re never too old, never too young to get into the water. We’re the one-stop shop for everybody.” 

The end goal is to have zero drownings. They start with Safety Around Water Week, a free program for anyone who’s never been around water or been in a pool before. It began with school-age kids, but they’d found that there were a number of adults who were in the same situation, out of fear, thinking that they were too old, etc. So they added an adult week to their program. At the Y, their motto is that you’re never too old — for anything. 

“Getting into the water is the best thing you can do for your body,” he continues. “It’s the least strenuous for the bones.” 

What they’re doing in their swim program goes beyond water safety, the swim team, and even physical fitness. They’re helping those in the community save lives. Not only do they do lifeguard certification, they also have training classes in CPR and first aid for first responders, teachers, and anyone who wants to be certified. They even have a babysitter certification program. They were named “Best Training Facility” by the Red Cross three years in a row, even during the COVID years. They’re aiming for their fourth now. 

Nearly all of the lifeguards in town received their certification at the Y. It really is the local lifeguard training center. And those first responders? The police or firefighters who might need to rescue someone from a flood zone? They all need training and certification. In those cases, calling for backup while waiting for someone who can swim just isn’t an option. 

Next stop — the Olympics? 

Head swim coach, Vlad Popel, has had success across the globe training swimmers for decades. His latest charge has her swimming goals aimed pretty darn high. Sarah Rodrigues, Wayne Valley student and Packanack Lake resident, spent a week at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs this fall with her sights set on making the Olympic team. 

Granted, not everyone on the Blue Streaks is on a path to the Olympics. Not everyone in the swim program is on the swim team (in fact, the Blue Streaks is only open to swimmers from ages 6-18). Many belong to other teams in the area and use the pool at the Y for additional practice  

Sometimes, the pool is used for something entirely different. They do a lot for seniors in the area — the Y is a stop on the town’s Senior Bus route, and the Y has recently started working with some assisted living facilities in town that will bus residents there to use the pool for low-impact aquacise.  

“I know we keep saying it,” the Y’s Erin Gilgur says. “But it really is swim for life. It starts with safety around water — the Square One basics (if you can’t swim and fall into the water, that sort of thing), then swim lessons, swim team, health and exercise. It’s not just for kids. It’s for everybody.” 

“We believe that everybody and anybody should learn to swim,” Hassan advises. “The hardest part is just getting here. We do the rest.” 

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