Hartwick swim team gives lessons to Arkville-area kids

Contributed Members of the Hartwick College swim team pose with Catskill Recreation Center Youth Swim Club members along with coach Jason Stanton, back row, third from left, at the Catskill Recreation Center swimming pool on Oct. 20.

Since late September, members of the Hartwick College swim team have been devoting an hour each Sunday to mentor young swimmers from the Catskill Recreation Club.

The mentor program was started by Jason Stanton, Catskill Recreation Club's swim coach. Stanton swam competitively as a student at the College of Saint Rose and is a learning specialist at Hartwick.

Stanton said the pool at the Catskill Recreation Club is the only one in the Margaretville area, so there isn't much exposure to swimming. Many of the Catskill Recreation Club kids had never seen a swim meet before, he said.

"I think that they [the kids] want to get better but they don't really understand the commitment that swimming takes to be successful at it," Stanton said. "They're not aware of what competitive swimming looks like, so I think being exposed to college students is helpful, to see the energy and enthusiasm."

The five Hartwick swim team members — Isaac Waide, Javonte Herbert, Celine Ortiz, Natalie Harkonen and Oleg Gentry — volunteer their time each Sunday to teach the kids, who range in age from 8 to 12, Stanton said. Within an hour of the first lesson, Stanton said the kids started showing improved techniques.

"It was phenomenal," he said. "They're getting one on one attention with somebody that, this is their specialty."

Isaac Waide is a Hartwick swim team member and one of the driving forces behind the mentoring program — literally and figuratively. Waide said he talked to Stanton about the initial idea, and he now drives swim team members from Oneonta to Arkville each Sunday, a two-hour round trip.

Waide, who's from Connecticut, said he taught kids to swim in his hometown. He started swimming when he was 12 and was recruited to be on the swim team at Hartwick after high school, where he's a long distance swimmer, he said.

Waide said when he first met the kids, he noticed the way they'd been taught to swim was more about staying physically fit. Over the past few months, he said he's seen more of a competitive edge in his mentees.

The senior business administration major said he balances schoolwork, swim practice and mentoring the kids very carefully, including getting up at 7:45 a.m. on Sundays, doing his homework until it's time to leave for Arkville, doing more schoolwork when he gets back and making sure he gets to bed early.

He said he tries to stress the importance of this balance to the kids, who he said have potential to become competitive swimmers.

"One thing I keep on telling them is that there's a reason we're called scholar-athletes," Waide said. "School first, then comes swimming. As you continue on in life you may continue swimming, but education comes first."

Hartwick swim team member Celine Ortiz said she started swimming about six years ago after a bad experience where she almost drowned. After that, she decided she needed to learn how to swim and she began swimming competitively.

The freshman art major from North Carolina specializes in breast stroke and helps the kids sharpen this style. Ortiz said she has taught swimming back home, including coaching for Special Olympics Cabarrus County.

Ortiz said she's seen the kids improve a lot since the swim team first met them, showing more cohesive strokes and most importantly, being more confident in the water.

"They're great kids. I love working with them," Ortiz said. "I have a blast with them and I'm sure they have a blast with me. They always look really happy when they're in the water, so that makes me really happy."

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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