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by Laura S Jones

December 31, 2008

An unsung hero

From the unsung hero department comes Mike Roesch, 54 and a member of the New Jersey LMSC. Roesch, currently a passionate Masters swimmer, never swam at all until taking the plunge three years ago. Now, he is a veritable Johnny Appleseed of swimming. Although instead of apple trees, he plants the seeds of a lifetime love of the water in the hearts of as many children as he can. And it’s all thanks to his own child.

“In helping out my daughter’s team with officiating and timing, it dawned on me how much I enjoy helping children.” (His daughter swam competitively through high school and is now contemplating attending a military preparatory college to prepare for the Coast Guard Academy.)

And Roesch wanted specifically to help kids in his community of Irvington, New Jersey, the majority of whom are African-American. Irvington is the birthplace of Olympian Cullen Jones and a very poor area. “When Cullen Jones won the gold medal, I knew it was an opportunity to do something.”

Irvington had an outdoor pool, but it wasn’t being programmed, not was it open for nine months of the year. In addition to offering summer lessons, Roesch wants to enclose the pool so kids - and their families – could swim all year long. He wants them to have the opportunities his daughter had.

Roesch realized that in order to be the most help, he needed to learn to swim “the right way.” He took lessons, joined USMS and became a Level 1 ASCA certified swim coach.

“Until you start doing it yourself, you don’t know how hard the kids work. It’s amazing how hard Masters swimmers work.”

To make his dream of teaching more minority kids how to swim a reality, Roesch started a non-profit called Irvington Aquatics. He has become the de factor volunteer aquatics director and has had to negotiate a sea of red tape – all while running his own business – to get the program up and running and funded. “The city is all for it, but there is no money.”

A chance meeting with the CEO of the American Red Cross’ Northern New Jersey Chapter, Ray Shepherd, helped secure a $10,000 grant from Danish health care corporation Novo Nordisk to fund instruction and use of the municipal pool. But the group needs more money, about $150,000 to enclose the pool and more of course to keep the programming going.

Roesch doesn’t just want to teach kids to swim; he wants to give them a chance to become competitive. He’s teaching them all four strokes so they can see all that swimming is. “It’s taken a lot of my time, but I just have to do this for the kids.”

In his spare time, he teaches swimming and water safety at the Freehold YMCA and is planning on competing in a couple of Masters meets this year. “I just like competing. It’s so much different from what I do every day. And wherever I go, I talk to people about Masters. I’ve got a whole spiel. I hope to be swimming for a long time to come.”

So in an effort to give the children of Irvington chance to swim and compete, Roesch found his own passion for swimming. A win/win if there ever was one.


  • Human Interest