PanAm boss pushes for growth of open water swimming in Jamaica
In this file photo, Jamaica's Zaneta Alvaranga in action for her country.

PanAm Aquatic (PAQ) President Maureen Croes is hopeful that the interaction with five-time Olympian Alia Atkinson and Aruban rising sensation Patrick Groters will serve as added motivation for Jamaica's aspiring stars to continue their development and pursuit of open water swimming.

Croes's optimism comes from the fact that the recently concluded learn-to-swim camp hosted by Atkinson and Groters as well as the open water event in Montego Bay were overwhelmingly successful, providing the perfect platform upon which PanAm Aquatics intends to push for the continued growth of the discipline across the region.

During the three-day event staged at Doctor's Cave, Atkinson and Groters assisted the young swimmers to become more comfortable in open water, as opposed to the pool.

The duo, alongside Jamaica's Zaneta Alvaranga, taught the necessary safety requirements in and around water, while the more experienced swimmers were taken through a number of technical areas and also how to strengthen their mental resolve before and during competition.

For Croes, the turnout of over 40 young aspiring swimmers eager to learn the foundation of the sport, which will serve them well in their long-term athletic development, underlined the significance of such an initiative.

"The children love the water, and the fact that we have so many swimmers turn up for something that was coordinated in a few days shows that we have an opportunity to grow the open water discipline not only in Jamaica but also elsewhere across the region.

"What happened here is a success and we hope that when we leave here, open water will get a little bit more interest from the aquatic community, and we hope that out of this group of athletes there will be a continued development of open water discipline for the future of Jamaican athletes," Croes told the Jamaica Observer.

She added: "We need to continue offering open water events throughout the entire year, specifically in the Caribbean because open water swimming is not really developed, so there is a huge opportunity to build on this because open water is not the same as pool swimming.

"Open water swimmers can be good in the pool, but likewise swimmers who are not great in the pool can become awesome in the ocean. It takes a different character and training. So I think one of the things our association can benefit from is really working on open water swimming as a separate discipline... not getting our distance swimmers and put them in open water, but really give open water swimming and our athletes an opportunity to develop."

Still, Croes couldn't ignore the absence of a 50-metre pool on the western end of the island, which has forced coaches and athletes based there to become creative in training and learning how to swim.

Earlier this year, Aquatic Sports Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) President Martin Lyn mentioned that continued advocacy for a pool in the second city topped his agenda.

"Of course, we will continue to see if we can get another pool elsewhere in Jamaica to help the western athletes — so that definitely will be one of the goals for this year," Lyn said in a previous interview with the Observer.

Croes expressed optimism that this vision will come to fruition.

"I think there is a definite need for that (50m pool in Montego Bay) because aquatics has a life here and swimming is a life skill. It is not something that should only be available to a few select children or adults. Everybody should know how to swim, especially when you live on an island surrounded by water," Croes argued.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Davis and Leanna Wainwright, who were among those that benefited from open water stroke technique lessons from former competitors Rick Walter and Dennis Ryther, topped the men's and women's 3K swim.

The PanAm Open Water series, which began in the Cayman Islands on March 3, is set to finish in Puerto Rico on Sunday.

BY SHERDON COWAN Staff reporter

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