LAKEWOOD RANCH — Emily Watrobsky was only 4 years old the first time she jumped into the pool at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA.
She was by far the smallest and youngest member of the Wave Runners swim team, but that didn’t stop the youngster from battling stroke-for-stroke with swimmers twice her size. And even when she finished dead last, Emily’s smile never left her face.
“She was smiling so much that sometimes we thought she was going to choke on the water,” Lakewood Ranch YMCA Aquatics Director Hilary Koppenhaver said.
Two years later, Emily, who has since been nicknamed “Tiger” by her coaches, continues to spend nearly every day in the pool, training with the Wave Runners and perfecting her breaststroke.
Emily is just one of 120 boys and girls whose love of swimming has propelled them to join the Lakewood Ranch YMCA Wave Runners swim team. The team formed in 2004, and by 2006, the spring and summer team had 50 kids and the fall team had 30.
Since then, the team nearly has tripled in size, making this year’s team the largest team in the Suncoast League and the YMCA’s largest team to date. With their numbers on the rise, the Wave Runners were finally able to have their own team cap, suit, T-shirt and picture for the first time.
“When we first started, it was so sporadic and very unorganized,” Wave Runners coach Maureen Reid said.
“When I first got here in October 2006 we were just a tiny little recreational novice team,” Koppenhaver added. “I think one of the things that kind of skyrocketed our numbers was Michael Phelps in the 2008 Olympics. Now, I finally feel like we’re a full fledged team.”
The team is open to boys and girls between 5 and 18 who are members of the YMCA. Swimmers are divided into four levels based on their age and skill level. This year, 35 of the 120 swimmers are between 12 and 18.
“So many of the older kids in the program are high school kids who don’t swim year-round,” said Reid, also an assistant coach for the Lakewood Ranch High swim team. “This team allows them to swim all summer long right here and keeps them in shape for high school swimming.”
The team practices from 5-8 p.m. on weeknights and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.
“I like that you get a good workout, and it’s fun,” 10-year-old Brieann Reid said of swimming. “The coaches are always encouraging you to do your best.”
In September, the team will officially become a year-round swim team and will join USA swimming. Having outgrown the Suncoast League — the next largest team only has 60 kids — USA swimming will provide the Wave Runners much-needed competition.
“USA swimming will give us more opportunities to provide competition for our kids in swimming,” Koppenhaver said. “It’ll open up the door for increased amounts of competitive opportunities.”
Additionally, the team also recently received a grant to purchase starting blocks at a cost of about $13,000. The organization will be offering corporate sponsorships for each of the starting blocks at a cost of about $1,600 per block. There will be several different levels of contributions available and the YMCA is looking into putting the names and logos of its sponsors on the blocks as well as hanging banners and putting their names on the back of the team T-shirt.
“Having a (pool) without starting blocks is essentially like having a basketball court without the hoops,” Koppenhaver said.
For more information, visit www.manateeymca.org/lakewooodranch or contact Lakewood Ranch YMCA Aquatics Director Hilary Koppenhaver, 782-0220, Ext. 102.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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