Volume 74, Number 31 | December 08 - 14, 2004

Azriela Candelaria and mom Sandra enjoy the Water Babies program at the McBurney YMCA on W. 14th St. at Sixth Ave.

Kids go from guppies to dolphins in Y swim program

By Judith Stiles

When Sandra Owczarski was a child nobody taught her how to swim and she describes this somewhat wistfully, as she tucks her hair into a purple swim cap, while sitting on the bench by the McBurney YMCA pool. However, determination quickly opens up a big smile on her face as she jumps up and declares her daughter will learn to swim at a young age, and certainly she is not going to wait until she can walk and talk to take the plunge.

At 13 months, daughter Azriela Candelaria and mom Sandra enrolled in the Water Babies program at McBurney, and together they have enjoyed eight months of becoming acquainted with a very big pool and other little babies. On Saturday morning, about 28 moms, dads and babies dotted the shallow end of the pool with brightly colored swim caps and noodle-like flotation devices. There was an even mix of baby boys and girls, as one swim cap stood out with bold pink letters announcing “GIRL POWER” on an eagerly thrashing and splashing little tadpole. The activities included babies sitting on the ledge of the pool, secured by the arms of mom or dad, while singing “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. . .” in unison, right before they were gleefully lifted into the water. Out of 14 babies only one girl was crying, as her patient dad gently cajoled her into trying again. The songs and games incorporated basic swimming skills, such as kicking, pulling arms and blowing bubbles, as well as water safety.

Virgina Clay, the aquatics director at the Mc Burney Y, participated in one of the original Water Babies classes in Bellerose, Queens, with her daughter Jessica, who is now 24 years old. “My kids are what you call Y brats,” Clay says, affectionately chuckling. Her children grew up swimming, playing basketball and other sports at the YMCA and now her 19-year-old son, Scott, is working at the Y while he is in college.

After graduating from Water Babies there are a variety of aquatic classes where tots begin to move more independently in the water under the guidance of the parents and instructors. For children ages 3-5 there is a Pre-Ballet and Swim Class where the guppies will learn positioning of feet and arms, coordination, musicality and ballet vocabulary on the gym floor, followed by similar instruction in the pool. Tots can progress from shrimp/kipper, to perch, pike, to eel and finally up to ray/starfish, where they work on improving their stroke and building endurance.

For the more serious youth swimmer, Clay has spearheaded the first McBurney YMCA swim team for over 30 children ages 6 to 17 years old, who train and compete in swim meets with other YMCA teams.

There is an abundance of lap swimming times for adult recreational swimmers, and a fun “Twinges In The Hinges” aquatics class for adults with arthritis who enjoy doing exercises in the pool that are too painful to do on land.

“Also we have a wonderful one-on-one swim program for autistic children. Swimming relaxes the child while at the same time it also helps him or her learn to focus,” says aquatics director Clay. “The etiquette of lap swimming is one of my new projects,” she adds thoughtfully. “I’m thinking of having a lap etiquette week because so many new swimmers do not understand simple things like notifying a lap swimmer that you are getting in a lane.”

Toward the end of the Water Babies class, little Azriela Candeleria became fascinated with another baby as she reached out and started patting and stroking the other baby’s face with great curiosity. Mother Sandra smiled and said, “Gentle, gentle,” as she coaxed Azriela’s hand away from her classmate’s face. In lap etiquette if you are about to pass another swimmer it is O.K. to pat the lead person’s foot as you catch up, to signal that you want to pass. (Face stroking of swimmates is probably not on the list.) Chances are if little Azriela works her way up through the ranks of the YMCA, from shrimp to perch to starfish to lap swimmer, she won’t need any tips on the etiquette of lap swimming. In fact, by then she will probably be able to teach the course — that is of course in about the year 2020.

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