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Thursday, October 24, 2013

How To Build A Great Open Water Swimming Club

If there is anyone who embodies the expansive scope of open water swimming, it is Sally Minty-Gravett on the island of Jersey smack dab in the English Channel. From Channel swimmer to coach, from mentor to administrator, the personable swimmer has made swimming her life's work.

Soundly and strategically, Minty-Gravett has been building an outstanding open water swimming club in Jersey for four decades. She gave insight on how she did it at the 2013 Global Open Water Swimming Conference in Cork, Ireland this past weekend.

The Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club (JLDSC) was founded in 1974 by a small group of people. Touted as possibly the best little swimming club in the world, the club founders were keen to create a club dedicated to long distance sea swimming. “My parents were part of the group that formed the JLDSC,” explains Minty-Gravett. “For that I shall be ever grateful. As we all live on an island and pre-1969 there were no indoor pools. So most of us learnt to swim in the sea – hence why we loved it – and still do.”

The original swimmers, including Denize Le Pennec and Minty-Gravett, were competitive swimmers who competed regularly in the sea. Out of the original seven swimmers, four became English Channel swimmers. In 1975, they formed the JLDSC Channel relay team in the Matthew Webb Centenary Race. The average age of the team was 14, so swimming in the sea at a young age has always be part of Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club.

Over the years the club has grown from 10 people to 169 members with a good mix of people from various generations. At the high (i.e., far) end of the spectrum, JLDSC has 25 English Channel swimmers and a number of others who have completed Round Jersey swims, Catalina Channel crossings, and Jersey to France swims.

"The dedication of the committee over the years is what has made the club into what it is today," said Minty-Gravett. "The committee are either swimmers or parents of children who swim and credit must be given to the late and very great past presidents, parents and committee members including Leslie and Anne Minty, Fay and Tommy Devereux, Bernard and Maurice Lakeman, and Mike Kempster – all of whom were instrumental in starting, running and organising the club in its formative years."

Minty-Gravett fosters everyone's love of the sea and mentors those who swim in its ultimate theater. "The best way to experience a English Channel swim before you do it is a relay and juniors love doing relays as it is so much fun. And long distance swimming creates worldwide friendships – for life. There is great support within the club for all solo or relay swims that take place whether the swimmer is a visitor or a local. The youngsters are constantly surrounded by Channel swimmers, Round Jersey swimmers and swimmers who have accomplished a great deal."

But the Channel is not their only focus. "We are very lucky in Jersey that we have beautiful bays to swim in, and can always swim somewhere depending on the wind direction. But most of our Club swims take place in the safety of St.Catherine’s bay.

The swims are all very social and tailored to the swimmer's abilities and experience. Our experienced sea swimmers are asked to lead small pods of children. With children come parents and siblings. What invariably happens is that once one starts, then other family members join in

Besides creating an enjoyable ambiance, Minty-Gravett makes sure their progression matches their desires and abilities. "We progress the swimmers from boat to boat on a weekly basis before we swim point-to-point as they gain confidence in themselves and in us as leaders building up to a kayak day and night swims for all."

If there is a model for building a great swimming club, the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club is certainly it.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

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