Eleanore Hunsaker, left, Klara Hanson Nikulina, Dreyke Mendiola and Curtis Hastings show a variety of emotions while floating on a foam mat during a swim lesson Thursday. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Eleanore Hunsaker, left, Klara Hanson Nikulina, Dreyke Mendiola and Curtis Hastings show a variety of emotions while floating on a foam mat during a swim lesson Thursday. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Swim lessons help youngsters learn important skill

Safety and fun.

Those are the key elements when it comes to teaching swim lessons, according to Kristi Eager, aquatics coordinator of Swim South Whidbey.

“Safety first, then fun, then learning is what I teach our instructors,” Eager said. “Kids can’t learn if they are not in a safe environment, and they definitely are not learning if they are not having fun.”

Eager, who is contracted through the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, runs four two-week sessions each summer, and each session includes 80-90 youngsters ages 4 to 14.

A parent-tot class is also offered where a parent is in the water with children 1-3 years old.

Lessons are held at the Useless Bay Golf and Country Club’s outdoor pool.

“Jason Youngsman (the club’s general manager) has been great to work with; he’s been very supportive,” Eager said.

Eager praised the cooperation shown by the parks district, the country club and the Island Athletic Club in helping the swim program prosper.

For group lessons, the swimmers are divided into six levels according to their ability.

The youngsters must be having fun because they keeping signing up.

The classes for the first four levels are always full, according to Eager. After the swimmers reach level 5, they often transfer to South Whidbey Stingray swim team coached by Eager.

The Stingrays include swimmers 6 to 18 years old.

Because of a lack of pool space, the Stingrays’ practices are limited to twice a week at the Island Athletic Club in the winter and three times a week at the Useless Bay pool in the summer.

Since the Stingrays can’t practice more often, they do not compete against other clubs, Eager said. The Stingrays’ hold several intraclub meets during the year and emphasize individual growth through setting personal-best times and club records.

Team members can earn “fab four” medals by posting personal records in all four events.

“Swimming has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it is something that I continue to come back to either for personal reasons or for employment reasons,” Eager said.

She began teaching lessons while in high school more than 30 years ago and then became a swim coach at the same pool through her college years.

Eager joined a masters swim team in 1998. That ended when she moved to Whidbey Island, which had no masters team, youth team or public group lessons.

“There was a need for all three of these, and with my kids needing and/or wanting lessons, I joined with Island Athletic Club, parks and rec, and Useless Bay,” she said. “It’s been a long process to get to this point, but now we have all three programs.”

This is Eager’s seventh year coordinating swim lessons. She employs 14 instructors (some have been with her since the beginning) to help with the lessons; most are members of the Stingrays. The instructors are at least 16 years old and are assisted by those who are 14 or 15.

Eager is passionate about teaching swimming because it is a critical skill.

“Drowning is still the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4,” she said. “On average more than 350 children drown each year. We live on an island surrounded by water and have many amazing lakes to play in, so it is very important to keep kids safe in and around the water at all times.”

“Aside from safety, swimming is a sport that all people can participate in,” she added. “It is a lifetime sport that can be recreational or competitive at any stage of life. Swimming has been a part of my life since I was an infant, and I still swim and coach a masters swim team as an adult.”

Zoe Herrild, left, and Caitlin Sullivan help Klara Hanson Nikulina learn to float on her back. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Zoe Herrild, left, and Caitlin Sullivan help Klara Hanson Nikulina learn to float on her back. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Instructor Ashley Lynch introduces Walker Kirkconnell to diving.	(Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Instructor Ashley Lynch introduces Walker Kirkconnell to diving. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Sam Baesler explains diving technique to a group of students.	(Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Sam Baesler explains diving technique to a group of students. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Caitlin Sullivan helps Dreyke Mendiola with his back float.	(Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Caitlin Sullivan helps Dreyke Mendiola with his back float. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Instructor Sam Baelser, second from bottom, helps a youngster during Thursday’s lessons. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

Instructor Sam Baelser, second from bottom, helps a youngster during Thursday’s lessons. (Photo by Jim Waller/South Whidbey Record)

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