Standing arm-to-arm in matching shirts beneath a shady tree at the Arlington Park Aquatic Center, Ira and Cindy Klein can’t wait to dive into the story of the recently formed Sarasota Tsunami Swim Team, which they started in May without a single swimmer. In just five months, the team has grown to 70 participants.
“The little ones are so excited that they go to school with their swim trunks on,” says head coach Ira Klein.
“The team provides an avenue for children, whether they want to be a star or just participate.”
For more than a decade, local swimmers didn’t have a choice of swim teams. But, with the addition of the Tsunami Swim Team and a coach who is enthusiastic about getting every person he meets into the water, athletes now have options.
“I was the first girl to join the team,” says 8-year-old Rebekah Spiegelman. “It was just me and two boys, and we swam hundreds of laps.”
Rachel has been swimming for the past four years and likes the team because it has enabled her to expand her friendships.
“I like racing because I meet a lot of people, and it’s fun to stand with my friends while we wait for them to call out, ‘Eight and under, eight and under!’” she says. “Everybody is ready to cheer us on.”
Klein has been coaching for the past 35 years and has trained six Olympians and more than 40 USA, YMCA and collegiate national champions. His philosophy is simple: Create a fun and positive environment that encourages each swimmer to achieve his maximum potential.
“We train as a team, but compete as individuals,” Klein said. “I believe in a program rich in technique, quality and fun.”
Coaching has taken Klein around the country, including 10 years at a club in Santa Barbara, Calif., three years as an assistant coach at Auburn University and four years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, in Colorado, where he helped start a new department to build up swim clubs. Although he enjoyed his job, his heart remained in coaching.
So, in 2008, Klein returned to Sarasota to coach the YMCA Sharks. Two years later, he embarked on an undertaking of his own: the Sarasota Tsunamis.
“Young kids today want to do it all — play lacrosse, soccer, work on a musical instrument and swim,” Klein said. “I want this team to stand out. It’s extremely gratifying to see something grow that didn’t exist before.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].