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Leading by Example

By Sarah MacDonald
Photo: Courtesy University of Maine

Black Bear swim school allows University of Maine student athletes pass the swimming tradition to the next generation. 

Each fall and spring, the hallways of the University of Maine’s Memorial Gym come alive with little voices and hustling feet. They are all headed to Wallace Pool for swimming lessons, taught by members of the UMaine swimming and diving programs.
Maine senior captain Lauren Dwyer developed her swim skills as a student in the Black Bear swim school directed by then head coach Jeff Wren. Dwyer, who races freestyle, backstroke, and fly, draws from her experience as a swim student in the swimming lesson program when teaching the children in her classes.
“It’s full circle for me,” Dwyer says. “This is where I started, so I want to make it fun for every kid and really encourage them.”
Maine’s learn to swim program is unique in design, according to head coach Susan Lizzotte, who oversees the program. Each collegiate swimmer who teaches in the program is assigned to teach a small group of children. At times, there is one teacher per student. Seven levels of instruction are offered, with students ranging in age from 4 to 13 years old.
“It is amazing how much my daughter learned with individualized and focused instruction,” said Krista Todd, who has two young daughters that have both attended the Black Bear swim school. “Not only do they learn to swim, but they look to their swim instructors as role models.”
Senior Cody Lachance has also recognized the impact of the swim lesson program. “It impacts the community by giving back to the kids and helping them improve their skills,” he says. “It’s nice because we see them at our meets. They look up to us.”
The earnings from the Black Bear swim school helps defray the cost of the semester break Florida training trip, an important period in the Black Bear training cycle.
“It’s the perfect time to train hard, without classes and homework,” Lizzotte says.
During the fall 2013 semester, Maine has raced against quality opponents, including Brown University. While Maine has competed and recorded impressive performances, Lizzotte continues to prioritize fundamentals.
Among the impressive performances for the Maine women are Naja Harvey in the breaststroke events and Erica Smrcina in the butterfly.
Harvey’s 1 minute, 5.7 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke is the fourth fastest time thus far in this year’s America East Conference (AEC), a fraction of a second off the AEC fastest time of 1:05. Harvey also has the fifth fastest time in the 200-yard breaststroke at 2:25.3. Teammate Erica Smrcina, a senior, ranks sixth in the 100-yard fly at 58.5.
Diver Kara Capossela, undefeated this season, leads America East divers in 1-meter points 258.37 and in 3-meter points 257.95.
On the men’s team, sophomore Matt England consistently swims well in his races this season including a 52.92 finish in the 100-yard backstroke against Brown and 1:51.6 against Boston College. In the freestyle events, junior David Vittori has covered distance from 50 to 500 yards and earned first place.
While the Black Bears are giving indications that they will be fast races when championship season opens in February, they also continue the tradition of teaching area children to swim.

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