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by Elaine K Howley

April 9, 2021

Creating connections with an inclusive and supportive in-pool environment

Nashville Aquatic Club Masters Coach Ashley Whitney knows what it means to swim fast. She earned an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 4x200 freestyle relay at the 1996 Atlanta Games after all.

But her ability to connect with swimmers of all speeds to create a supportive and inclusive in-pool environment keeps Corinne Tureau, who swims with Whitney about four times a week, coming back for workout after workout. And Tureau says workouts are as amazing as Whitney herself.

“She has an amazing mind for details,” Tureau says.

Those details? Names, times, intervals, and family and work situations for every single swimmer. It’s a large club with about 150 people, so that’s a lot of details to keep track of. But somehow Whitney just does it.

Another talent Whitney has is keeping the large group moving together as one. Tureau says that Whitney engineers workouts so that everyone across the whole pool leaves at the same time, rather than having segmented workouts—no small feat when the speed levels of swimmers can vary widely across the whole pool.

“She has the ability to help you feel part of a group, even when you’re in a lane by yourself [because of COVID-19 protocols at the facility] because you’re leaving at the same time as everyone else,” Tureau explains. “That really helps it feel more cohesive, which has been nice during the pandemic.”

Whitney always projects a positive mindset and spirit, which helps swimmers stay motivated and feel valued. “When you have a few lanes on a slower interval than others, she would never call them ‘the slow lane,’” Tureau says. “She always says ‘That’s the fast end of the pool. And this end down here is the faster end.’” These subtle language choices can make a big impact on swimmer self-esteem and help even the newest member of the team feel welcomed and appreciated.

Perhaps Whitney’s biggest plus is her evident and infectious joy when coaching. “She never makes it seem hard. She seems like she really loved being there,” Tureau says, and that rubs off on the swimmers who want to keep turning up to take part in the special group they’re part of. “It’s a great group of people. I’ve always been a little biased towards swimmers and my best friends have always been that through swimming,” Tureau explains.

“And (Whitney) just makes everything really fun. She’s just very positive and encouraging and pushes people a little outside their comfort zone to try new things.”

Infectious Enthusiasm

For many Masters swimmers, getting in a workout often means rising before dawn and rolling up to the pool feeling a little sleepy. But for swimmers training with the Alexandria Masters Swimming club in Northern Virginia under Coach Barb Gundred, it’s impossible to stay grumpy in the face of her bubbling energy that really helps set the tone in the pool. So says Jodie Grimm, who started swimming with the group when she moved to the D.C. area this past September.

“Good morning, Buttercups!” Gundred bellows as swimmers arrive on deck, and that robust greeting creates an in-pool environment that motivates and supports swimmers.

“I don’t mean to speak for the whole team,” Grimm says, “but I know for at least me personally, [swim practices] are the highlights of my week. To show up there and be greeted by her energy, she’s just naturally motivating.”

It’s clear that Gundred loves swimming and loves being a coach, Grimm says. “She just really does a good job of passing along that energy to us,” which has been especially helpful during the pandemic.

Although the cancelation of meets has made setting the rhythm of the season a little more challenging, Grimm says Gundred has started harnessing that untapped competitive energy by setting up an intrasquad meet during a recent Saturday practice, with more to come soon. “It was fun,” Grimm says, not just because everyone had a chance to race for the first time in a long while, “but there’s a little bit more of a social aspect.”

Building that connection helps Grimm and other members of the team keep on swimming, no matter what. “No matter what’s going on, she’s just clearly happy to be there. And she spreads that positive energy through everyone else.”


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