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by Michael Watkins

May 3, 2022

As we celebrate our coaches, here are two who were instrumental in building their clubs

Taking over an existing team isn’t without challenges: Establishing new expectations for your swimmers. Gaining trust and buy-in from those same swimmers. Inspiring them to set and then exceed goals.

But starting a club from scratch—finding a pool and persuading swimmers to come swim under you—comes with related but different challenges.

That’s what Art Vera did when he started the Tsunami Masters in 2013 in northern Virginia. And although she didn’t start her Different Strokes Swim Club, Annette Bernier took over the group in 1993 eight years after its founding and turned it into one of the most well-respected teams in Southern California.

During Coaching Appreciation Week, their swimmers highlight what makes these coaches so good and honor them for the impact they make every day in their lives and the world of swimming.

Art Vera, Tsunami Masters

Tsunami Masters member Erford Porter has a lot of positive things to say about his coach, founder of Tsunami Masters in northern Virginia.

Vera always has a story and takes full advantage of the Masters minute.

Vera is open to his swimmers’ ideas.

Vera makes a point to celebrate members’ birthdays with a recurring team workout.

Vera incorporates some fun/silly activities like balancing little ducks on his swimmers’ foreheads during backstroke days to keep them aware of their head position and balancing paddles on foreheads during freestyle drills.

“Art acknowledges that we’re not all competitive high school or NCAA swimmers and offers plenty of opportunities to augment with equipment (fins, pull buoys, snorkels),” Porter says. “Art wants lifelong swimmers and does not turn anyone away.

“As with anyone who has done Masters, the teammates make the program, and Art has a huge impact on the teammates. Everyone cares about each other.”

Vera founded Tsunami Masters with his wife, Jo, in the summer of 2013 at Regency Sport and Health in McLean. Porter says that he would be remiss in talking about the couple if he didn’t acknowledge Jo’s influence during his first year.

“Let’s just say there were a lot of technique suggestions and very encouraging feedback,” he says.

One of Vera’s most redeeming qualities, Porter says, is that Vera doesn’t turn anyone away from the club, even if they don’t know how to swim.

“He is truthful about his ethos, and folks looking for a more intense/competitive environment have chosen other clubs (because of this),” says Porter, who has been swimming on and off most of his life and has been with USMS since October 2013.

“To keep the workouts challenging for all, he manages several different splits for the lanes. He offers technique adjustments that are appropriate for the swimmer’s level.”

Annette Bernier, Different Strokes Swim Team

Annette Bernier has spent nearly 30 years ensuring the club is a safe place for LGBTQ+ swimmers.

The club’s mission has always been to welcome swimmers of all levels, and enjoys tremendous camaraderie in and out of the pool.

It’s one of things Different Strokes Swim Team member Kim Theriault enjoys most about Bernier.

“If it's Wednesday night, you can find Annette on deck,” Theriault says. “She's essentially the matriarch of the team. Annette's passion for swimming shines through in the energy she brings week in and week out. She never phones it in.

“She knows where everyone is in the workout, actively coaching the newbies to the fastest in the pool with equal enthusiasm and attention. She is known for her holiday and creative workouts. She has a knack for writing workouts that sneak up on you. You’re always tired, but happy at the end.”

Theriault also identified Bernier’s natural sharing of her passion for swimming with recruiting and training the next generation of USMS coaches. At least three coaches with other clubs are Bernier’s prodigies.

For her, having been swimming with USMS and Different Strokes Swim Team since 1999, when she met Bernier at a water polo practice, was life-changing.

“She gave me some tips on how not to die after a 25,” Theriault says. “Learning how to properly swim has changed my life in more than one way. Annette and I have been partners for 23 years, all thanks to swimming.

“Additionally, I have swum with some of my lanemates and teammates for 20-plus years. The camaraderie and friendships we share are special. We're family.”

Bernier has been swimming for over 50 years, and her favorite stroke is butterfly. She was swimming with Southern California Aquatic Masters in the late 1980s when Bonnie Adair suggested that she would make a good swim coach.

Bernier is a USMS Level 3 coach with 35 years’ experience. She also has served as a board member of IGLA (International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics) and helped coordinate the 10th anniversary of the IGLA Championship in Coronado, California, which drew more than 500 swimmers in 1997.

Her team knows how fortunate they are to have Bernier.

“Annette is amazing,” Different Strokes Swim Team member Matthew Thomas says. “She has been my coach for over 25 years, and she continues to grow and amaze me. She is incredibly attentive, personable, funny, engaging, knowledgeable. She has always read the latest USMS stoke improvement articles and watches swim meets to see how the pros do it differently.”

“Annette is always full of surprises, and her passion for coaching is evident in everything she does,” says Different Strokes Swim Team member Franklin Maphis. “Her authority to lead comes from pushing herself even more than she pushes her swimmers. Her workouts are never stale, and she’s known for many fun and original workouts around the holidays.”


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