Taking The Plunge

Taking The Plunge
Let's face it.

Young people love to take the plunge.

It's why swimming pools are standard equipment in city parks across the nation.

It's why "the old swimming hole" is one of the most popular outdoor attractions in communities with rivers, creeks and lakes nearby.

So it's no surprise that a number of young people in Vermillion are devout swimmers, competing in matches throughout the region through their membership in the Vermillion Area Swim Team (VAST).

What VAST members may not realize, as they religiously hone their strokes and cover untold distances by practicing in the DakotaDome pool each week, is how this low impact sport is having an incredibly positive influence on their health.

Peggy Dell's 11-year-old son, Andrew, for example, has asthma.

She's certain, however, that his participation in VAST is keeping him healthy.

"He hasn't had to use his medication for over a year," Peggy said. "And I have a daughter, Bailey, and she's been very healthy as well."

Thanks to their constant swimming, Peggy is certain that Bailey and Andrew likely are able to outrun many kids right now, because of their excellent lung capacities.

"Children with asthma, typically, can't run very far without gasping for air," she said, "and Andrew does fine now because he swims. I think he swims over a mile a day."

Andrew has been a member of VAST for five years. He's beginning to find other interests that may start to pull him away from swimming.

Peggy and her husband, Terry, hope he sticks with the VAST team, because of its positive influence.

"This is the best medicine for him," she said.

Deana Fuller also points to the healthy gains being made by her children, Morgan, 10, and Daniel, 8, thanks to VAST.

"What I like about participating in this is you don't have to go to the meets," Deana said. "They are not a requirement, and it makes it easier on the kids, and easier on the parents if they are busy."

VAST allows kids to have fun, however, and form friendships through swimming, she said.

"It's a good workout, and its a good social atmosphere,"

she said.

There currently are 22 kids on the VAST team, raging in age from 6 to 18, said head coach Melanie Mahowald.

Other than taking off the months of March and August, VAST is a year-around program.

The rigorous practice schedule that keeps them perfecting their strokes in the DakotaDome pool several evenings each week is no fluke.

The young people need to be in top condition.

"If we had a high school team, you'd swim four events – you'd swim two individuals and two relays, max," Melanie said. "These kids are looking at five events a day. A lot of our events run the course of two or three days, and they are swimming five events each day."

The older members of the VAST team usually practice approximately 90 minutes each night they are in the pool.

"They do a half-hour dryland, and then they spend an hour-and-a-half in the pool," Melanie said.

Dryland exercises, as its name implies, is a workout session that takes place outside of the pool. It includes running stairs and abdominal exercises and sprints.

"It's usually core body stuff," Melanie said. "Then they come in and swim for an hour-and-a-half. We switch aerobic and anaerobic workouts, depending on the days."

The older team members practice five days a week, Sunday through Thursday.

Many of the younger swimmers also are in the pool five times a week. But some choose to practice two or three times weekly.

The VAST swimmers technically must have mastery of the sport's various strokes – breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle.

Melanie, however, finds desire to be important than form, especially with young, inexperienced swimmers.

"When our first little kids come in, if they only have what we call a 'legal' stroke, we will assume them in the others. I don't care how good of a swimmer they are; I really could care less.

"We don't have tryouts, because often that leaves kids discouraged," Melanie said. "They want to leave swimming lessons and they want to join the team, and I don't want to ever discourage anyone from joining us."

Younger swimmers usually spend about 45 minutes in the pool during a typical practice. A goal of each session to help them with their stroke mechanics.

"Our next group up works on stroke mechanics plus getting their endurance up," Melanie said. "And then our older swimmers – we still want them to have good strokes and we do work on it – but their practices focus more on strength and endurance training.

"They are at a level where they are fine-tuning their strokes," she said. "As they move up in groups and in experience, the expectations of what they do definitely changes."

The team completed its season by swimming at the state meet in Aberdeen Feb. 29-March 2. They will begin practicing for a new season in April.

"Our number one goal is for our swimmers to have fun," Melanie said. "We want them to leave here at the end of practice wanting to come back again."

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