07/19/2016 07:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux
Gallery: Swimmers of all ages at New Iberia Aquatics have the option to participate in a handful of meets throughout the year. [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Amanda Jean Harris
Summertime doesn’t mean an end to competition. While many of us are taking a break, the kids at New Iberia Aquatics are kind of just getting started.
Swimming is that rare sport that even children who may otherwise not care much about athletics get involved. The beauty? It has exceptional health benefits, in some cases even more so than other sports with a lower risk of injury.
“The 90 percent buoyancy of our bodies allows exercise without the pounding and jarring stress of doing land exercises,” says Monica Gentry with NIA. She explains the overall workout kids get when they swim. “Nearly all muscles are used thereby strengthening your core. It also improves coordination, balance and posture.”
For parents like Heidi DelaHoussaye and Juliet Granger, who wanted their children to find an athletic outlet, swimming has been a godsend. And while they are gladly reaping the health benefits, both say they have certainly found even more.
“The first year, all three of my kids were on swim team at one time or another. The two oldest aren’t very into athletics and this was a good way to get them to be involved in a sport and have the feeling of being on a team,” Granger says.
Now, Granger’s daughter is 11 and there’s another benefit to her swim season. “It helps her stay physical in preparation for the soccer season that starts in the fall,’ Granger says. “Last year, my oldest and youngest were both on swim team. They were only able to go to the practices as we were out of town for the meets, coincidentally. They got to meet kids from other schools here in New Iberia.”
Swimmers meet Monday through Thursday and you can sign up throughout the season. They swim from 5-6:30 p.m. at the New Iberia City Park Pool. The team participates in three to four meets each summer and there are about 30 kids that regularly participate.
“No swimmer is required to swim in meets. Sign up is in April, but swimmers can sign up any time while the program is running,” Gentry says.
And the program is running now. It’s a program that’s helping kids beyond the summer. And beyond the pool.
“My daughter, Ashleigh Delahoussaye, began swimming with COLA 3 years ago. We home school so I was looking for an opportunity for physical fitness. We went and tried it out and she loved it. She has competed in meets and it was great because they focus more on beating your own time instead of competing against others,” DelaHoussaye says.
And that focus on competition in a healthy way is exactly what NIA organizers like Gentry work toward with swimmers. “What I love about the sport is that each individual can compete in two ways — against themselves and for their team,” Gentry says. “The children learn that working hard, they get better every day they swim.”
And their joy at achieving those goals is evident, Gentry says. “It is the excitement on the children’s faces when they look at the posted race times and see that they have bettered their time. It is knowing that this can be applied to school and accomplishing other goals.”
It’s a sentiment that DelaHoussaye echoes as well and something she has seen happen in her own daughter. “It has helped her with goal setting and she has met many great friends … it’s a great program for the summer. She gets to swim closer to home,” she says. “It’s so important for children to begin swimming at a young age,”
That young age for swimming begins around 4 years, says Gentry. “Most children are developmentally ready for swim lessons when they are about four years old,” she explains. “Prior to that, their brains and bodies are less able to coordinate the motions of swimming strokes, so putting them in lessons isn’t very effective. It could even be frustrating for them to try to do something that’s beyond their abilities. That being said, NIA will take swimmers that can swim the width of the pool without stopping,” Gentry says.
DelaHoussaye says she can rest easy knowing her children have the skill set to be safe in the water thanks to an early start. “She swims so well that I never have to worry about her in the water. She has convinced my youngest daughter, Grace, to join this year. Although Grace can already swim, I’m excited to see her grow and become a stronger swimmer. Grace has a heart condition and I’m glad to see her swimming because it’s great exercise for her,” she says.
While Granger says her children were never afraid of the water and they have a pool at home, the swim team has played a crucial role for them.
“My kids were never afraid of the water as they had good swimming lessons at a very young age and we have a pool at home, but swim team helped them learn proper technique for several different strokes. This year, my oldest became a lifeguard. I attribute his strong swimming and comfort in the water to his time on swim team,” Granger says.
In addition to the many health benefits and the future of safety in the water, Gentry points to the very important but intangible benefits as well. “Kids who swim regularly experience less tension, depression and anger,” she says.
While all aerobic exercise can relieve depression, there is actually something about swimming that seems to have an even greater impact. One sports psychologist, Aimee C. Kimball of the Center for Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburg is quoted as saying there’s a lot of research being done about the why and other experts, who are swimmers themselves, note some of the unique movements of swim that could be the “why” for its efficacy in mental health improvement.
Combine the repetitive nature of swimming with a kind of built-in mantra of slow counting laps as well as the alternating stretching and relaxation of skeletal muscles while deep-breathing in a rhythmic pattern and you have a recipe that works. (And is similar to other stress-reducing activities like yoga.)
But, like the competition angel of swimming that has two sides, NIA’s very existence is two sided— both to individuals and the community.
“The swim team is a great asset to the community. It builds healthy kids and encourages them to be part of a team. We have to get the community leaders to embrace the swim team,” Granger says. “Right now, we have to pay for the use of the pool, which is sub par. I’d like to see us have a year round swim team in an indoor pool. Right now, if one of our kids wants to swim year round on a team, he or she has to travel to Lafayette. Let’s keep it in New Iberia.”
Each year the group has a swim fundraiser to help defray costs. “We do have a lap-a-thon fundraiser to help raise money to pay the city for pool time,” Gentry says. “The downside of NIA is that NIA does not have the facilities to host a meet or provide a place for our summer swimmers that go on to join swim team like NISH and Westgate and Catholic High schools. They have to drive to Lafayette and utilize their pool facilities when the high school swimming season begins.”
To learn more about NIA check out their Facebook page and to sign up email email@example.com