When Meghan Hershey stepped onto the pool deck for the first time, she felt an impending sense of doom. At four years old, she held on tight to her mother’s hand, and was reluctant to enter the warm waters of the indoor pool near her childhood home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. An earlier near-drowning experience had traumatized her, and she wanted no part in learning to swim.
“The instructor actually had my mom hide in another part of the pool so she could see me but I couldn’t see her,” she remembers.
Her reluctance was short lived, and Hershey grew to love the water. At age eight, Hershey began swimming competitively in a summer recreation league, and at the end of that summer, she wanted nothing more than to stay in the pool. A lifeguard and swim instructor introduced her to the idea of joining a winter club team, and from there, she just kept swimming.
Hershey swam her way onto a USA Swimming competitive team at the age of ten, and began traveling out of state for meets. At 14, she joined the Diplomat Swim Club, a prestigious and competitive team operated out of Franklin and Marshall College near her hometown. From time to time, the Franklin and Marshall coaches would attend her team practice and help swimmers with different drills and stroke technique work. When the time came, the assistant coach reached out and encouraged Hershey to swim for Franklin and Marshall College. So, she did.
“Swimming on a college team was like gaining a family,” Hershey said. “You spend every living second with them. A lot of swimming is about the connections you make with your teammates. It’s a difficult sport and your teammates make it fun and enjoyable at the end of the day.”
Hershey enjoyed success while swimming for the Diplomats, and when college swimming came to an end, Hershey missed it terribly. She continued to swim on Master’s teams, but she missed coaching and working with kids.
“Swimming has been my life for the past 18 years, and I’ve been coaching swimming since I was 12 years old on a summer league team,” she said. “Through my coaches and mentorship, I grew very passionate about it.”
In December, Hershey started coaching swimming part-time at the Avon Recreation Center. She brought with her training techniques from her decades of competitive swimming experience. These tools range from swimming with bungie cords and tennis balls to capturing underwater camera footage, helping swimmers refine stroke technique.
According to Recreation Director John Curutchet, “One of the things that is most impressive about Meghan is that she’s been freshly coached. Swimming, like any sport, changes and evolves, and Meghan is on the forefront of recent training techniques and aids. Those are the types of things we’re excited to bring to the Community Swim Program.”
Hershey’s unique coaching style lands her in the pool more often than not. Some swimmers on the Recreation Team have never seen stroke technique demonstrated. Rather than explain with words, Hershey hops in. “At that age, kids are very visual, kinetic learners. I can show them more in ten minutes in the pool than I can explain in an entire practice.”
All that practice is paying off. With only a few weeks of Hershey’s training under their swim caps, each and every swimmer has dropped time. At the recent MAValanche meet in Grand Junction, brothers Max (12) and Ross (11) Bradbury went 1-2 in the 100 Meter Freestyle, with Max edging out his younger brother by dropping more than three seconds from his time. Max also won the 50 Meter Freestyle, with Ross finishing in third place.
Just a few weeks later, the ladies from the USA Swim Team participated in their first ever relay. In years past, it has been a struggle to get four USA Swim Team girls at the same meet at the same time. At the Sopris Last Chance Meet in Glenwood Springs on February 5th, Hannah Mech (13), Emma Borel (13), Paris Carey (12), and Kylee Smith (13) teamed up for a third place finish in the relay. Smith went on to win the 50 Meter Freestyle and finished fifth in the 200 Meter Backstroke. Ross Bradbury also enjoyed great success at the Sopris swim meet, finishing second in the 100 Meter Freestyle and edging out his brother to win the 50 Meter Breaststroke. Max Bradbury finished second in the event. Both Ross and Max Bradbury are qualified for the State Championship meet which takes place from February 24-26. Several swimmers from the USA Swim Team, including Breck (8) and Tyson (6) Boyd and Kylee Smith, also qualified for the Silver States meet, which takes place March 3-5.
The 15 swimmers on the USA Swim team are not the only beneficiaries of Hershey’s coaching. The Avon Recreation Center has more than 30 swimmers on the Recreation and Prep swim teams, and recently launched Learn to Swim programs for all community members. Participants range in age from one-and-a-half to 67 years old, and lessons are available in private, semi-private, or a group format. Whether it’s teaching a young swimmer to blow bubbles, or helping a competitive swimmer improve their stroke technique, Hershey’s goal is to teach as many kids to swim as possible. “I believe it is a skill that everyone should learn and everyone should have.”
Starting this fall, the Avon Recreation Center will partner with Eagle County School District to provide swim lessons for students in grades 1, 3, and 5 at Avon Elementary. In addition, a new element of the Community Swim Program is financial assistance, available to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Several swimmers are taking advantage of the financial assistance opportunity. According to Recreation Director John Curutchet, “Providing financial aid has increased swim program participation for all levels of our socioeconomic demographic, and is an important founding principle in our program.”