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Teaching the World to Swim

Swimming Saves Lives in action with Coach Bill Meier

Laura Jones | January 18, 2013

The USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation supports the efforts of energetic and passionate Masters swimmers who want to make a difference. Masters coach Bill Meier just such a person. It is impossible to talk with him for even five minutes without being inspired. “It was just one of the best things we ever did,” Meier says of the week of free swim lessons for adults that his club offered to their community.

Meier, 51, is the head coach of Simon’s Rock Pace Makers. He is also a tireless champion of swimming for young and old alike. A long and winding road brought him to Masters Swimming, where he is finding some of the greatest joy of his professional life and sharing that joy with others.

It all started when, after moving to a rural community in Western Massachusetts in the 1990s, Meier realized there were few opportunities for kids to swim, and even fewer facilities. To offer swim lessons, “I went to every puddle of water you could swim in,” he says. It was a labor of love that was wearing him out until the administrators of nearby Bard College at Simon’s Rock decided to build a new aquatics facility.

The facility opened in 1999 with Meier as aquatics director. In that position, he was able to expand the SwimAmerica swim lesson program he had begun several years earlier. In 2011, Meier and his staff decided it was time to offer free swim lessons to the children in his community following the SwimAmerica model. It was a great success.

Then, inspired by Grand Strand Masters’ week of free swim lessons, he decided to offer the same program to adults at the same time he was repeating the free SwimAmerica lesson week. He just needed to recruit a few volunteers, so he pitched the idea to his Masters club. They jumped on it. “As adults, there is always an element of wanting to give back to any activity that gives you joy,” explains Meier. Ten of his swimmers volunteered: Julia Erickson, Dale Abrams, Jerry Krauss, Alan Weaver, Buck Smith, John Olander, Allison Abrams, Jill Fleming, Buck Smith, and Bronly Boyd.

So for the week of April 16, 2012, the pool was filled with people of all ages learning to swim. “We had people in the water from 3 to 75 years old. In one end of the pool, we had the kids and in the other end the adults,” Meier says. The regular SwimAmerica instructors taught the kids and about 10 of his Masters club swimmers taught the adults using a program he put together that was modeled on the SwimAmerica program.

“It was the best energy I have ever felt on a pool deck,” Meier says.

At first, only about eight people signed up for the adult lessons, but Meier started recruiting. “All these parents are sitting on the deck. "'Bring your bathing suit tomorrow', I told them, 'and we’ll teach you how to swim.'” He ended up with more than 20 adult students ranging in ability from “totally fearful to wanting stroke improvement. If a Masters team is going to do free swim lessons, do it when a kids’ swim lesson is going on.”

Meier says his Masters swimmers were easy to train. “They all love swimming and we work on technique all the time, so all I had to do was explain progression to them. I also gave them a 10-page manual I created and did a 3-hour training. I was amazed at the quality of instruction.”

“I didn’t know what to expect, but the feedback has been incredible.” So Meier and his team are already planning for next year. “Probably a lot of [folks] on the Masters team would do it again next week.”

If another Masters club or workout group wants to replicate this terrific program, the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation is ready and able to assist with promotional materials and encouragement.

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About the Author—Laura Jones

Laura S. Jones, a lawyer by training, has written about sports, health, and science for a variety of publications since 2001. She's also the author of a short story collection, "Breaking and Entering," published in 2011. Jones is an avid, although not speedy, open water swimmer and particularly enjoys 5K and 10K ocean swims with her much faster husband, Rob. She'll occasionally humble herself with a 400IM or 500 free in a pool meet, and a triathlon or two.

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