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Swim fans

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com
Monday, July 30, 2012

WENDY Lee's passion for swimming, juxtaposed with Carletta Porter's experience in project management, have provided the perfect recipe for a management structure that has resulted in the continued success of Swim Jamaica, despite the challenges facing the group.

Both took over managing Swim Jamaica on a part-time basis over a year ago, although they have been with the organisation since its genesis in 2005. By depending on each other's strength, they have made great strides in creating a more professional approach to swimming, with the aim of making swimmers out of Jamaicans.

Swim Jamaica is the official learn-to-swim programme of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica, and was started in 2005 by two Christian volunteers from Scotland who managed the team until 2007. The group has trained over 6,000 students over the years, and has helped to shape the careers of over 100 swim instructors who are now employed at resorts both locally and internationally.

Lee's focus has primarily been on coaching, so far, and so most of her time is spent in the water. It's a place she doesn't mind being as it allows her to engage in the sport she fell in love with from childhood.

She said she became hooked on swimming after she was invited by a friend to attend her swim classes in Montego Bay on Saturdays. Ever since that time, she entered several swim meets, which further strengthened her techniques in the water.

"I competed in prep school, I competed in high school, and I was MVP (most valuable player) for my college team," said Lee, who pursued tertiary education in the United States.

After competing, she started coaching.

When she returned to Jamaica at 23, she had a number of parents approach her, seeking swimming lessons for their children, and due to the demand for this sort of service, was encouraged to start a swim club in Montego Bay, where she was born.

But although she was passionate about coaching, Lee decided to set this aside for a job befitting someone with a Master's in Business Administration (MBA).

"You know in Jamaica they say you must work in an office and if you are not working in an office, you are not somebody; so I tried to do the conventional thing, but it was not for me," said Lee, who became an accountant.

Lee spent most of her lunchtime coaching instead of eating, so after getting a part-time job as a swim coach at Hillel Academy in St Andrew, she had no misgivings about kissing the corporate world goodbye. Now she spends her time teaching her students at Hillel, and training amateur swimmers at the National Stadium pool.

"I found that the business world was all about taking, whereas this profession is all about giving; you are always giving back. You are giving your time; you are giving your love; you're giving your friendship, you're giving advice; you are teaching them (children) a skill and you are making them into more positive people," she said.

Whereas Lee loves the water, Porter admits that she cannot swim, although she is of the view that everyone in Jamaica ought to be able to do so because we are surrounded by water. It was this belief that prompted her to have her daughter join Swim Jamaica and become a "poolside mom", so to speak.

"If I am into something, I am in to it, so I didn't come, leave her at the gate and disappear like that. I came in and found out what was happening and I knew what was happening and so I began helping out with the swim meets, with the swim team and anywhere I could," she said.

When Swim Jamaica was putting in place a board to oversee the operations of the team, she was naturally considered.

"Certainly it was not my swimming skills, so it's more my administrative and management skills that came into play," said Porter, who has 20 years experience in IT and project management.

Despite the joy both women experience in carrying out their jobs, they are never allowed to forget the challenges that are preventing them from realising the vision they have for Swim Jamaica. The primary one is the lack of funding, which has resulted in them not being able to offer swimming lessons to underprivileged children as much as they used to. Corporate sponsorship, they feel, will enable them to continue to offer this service.

Both women would also love to see Swim Jamaica in Montego Bay revived, and one started in Mandeville, given the fact that there is not enough pool space at the stadium where they are currently based. Given the success of their current Swim Jamaica children's programme which is geared towards students from four years old, the managers are confident that Jamaica could possibly have more swimmers representing the country at the Olympics in a few years to come.

For now, however, they are proud of the fact that they at least have Janelle Atkinson representing us in this area.

"We might only have one, but we are proud of that," said Lee.

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