inPRACTICE / AQUATICS: A New Home for Swimming Stars

AquaChamps Swim School // Oakland Park, Fla.

AquaChamps Swim School has been offering comprehensive aquatic instruction to people of all abilities and ages since 1953, from infant swimming to competitive swim teams. In May 2020, they opened the doors of their new state-of-the-art aquatic facility in Oakland Park, Fla., after the original grand opening scheduled for March was shelved due to COVID-19.


According to Mary Jackson, president of AquaChamps, and Dan Vawter, vice president, they started from scratch when planning and constructing the new center, which is located a couple of miles from their previous location. "We've been fortunate enough to be in a position where we could build a facility to fit the needs of our business, versus fitting our business into the facility."

The new facility offers two large outdoor pools for instruction and training, and Jackson and Vawter point out that living in south Florida provides the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities year round. "Both of our pools are heated and chilled, and we also have thermal blankets to cover both pools. Our instructional pool is kept between 90 and 92 degrees in the winter." There is also a state-of-the-art DE filtration system.

The new building offers more than 1,700-square feet of interior viewing space, and Jackson and Vawter feel that the large viewing windows overlooking the pools are one of the buildings best features. "While these large windows were always in our vision for our facility, they turned out even better than we expected. Due to flooding requirements in our area, we were required that our building be three feet higher than our pool deck, so the visibility is great."

The building also houses a classroom, which in the future will be used for community classes and presentations, focusing on such topics as CPR, drowning prevention, nutrition and parenting. This will also function as a party room, since the facility will be available for private events and parties. Unfortunately, classes and parties are on hold for now due to coronavirus concerns. Memberships are also offered, giving families access to lap swim times, open family swim times, indoor classes and priority and discount birthday party booking.

AquaChamps offers many options when it comes to group swim classes—for both kids and adults—and they also provide one-on-one lessons that are customized for the individual. Half-day camps provide drowning prevention education and swim instruction, along with games and activities. Water aerobics classes offer musical aquatic fitness. And they've partnered with Holy Cross Health, whose physical therapists visit three times a week to work with patients who have challenges due to injuries, neurological conditions, chronic illness and pain.


The AquaStars program focuses on swimmers with developmental delays or special physical needs, and AquaTism is a program tailored for autistic swimmers and their families. Jackson and Vawter explained that these classes are customized to meet each swimmer's specific needs in and out of the water. "We offer these classes at a discounted rate to help families that have so many other out-of-pocket expenses. We've gone around the country speaking to other swim schools and organizations about swimming with children that are on the spectrum and how to implement adaptive aquatics into programs."

To address the pandemic situation, several adjustments have been implemented at the school, according to Jackson and Vawter, including reducing the class sizes and the number of classes being offered. Only one adult is allowed to attend a class with their swimmer(s), and coaches wear face shields when they're teaching. "We also still require face masks, temperature checks and hand sanitization for everyone upon entry to our facility. We will also be doing monthly COVID testing on all of our staff."

Having outdoor pools and plenty of space allowed AquaChamps to modify their programs to meet health requirements and survive the pandemic, and Jackson and Vawter point out that UV light and chlorination make fantastic germ fighters. During the summer, their Parents Morning Out half-day camp was focused on being outside in the water learning swimming skills, lifeguarding skills and drowning prevention for pools and the ocean. The camp was sold out the entire summer. "Our goal was to provide a safe environment for our young swimmers to socialize with their peers, which is something we had taken for granted before COVID. Our little swimmers were so excited to be around peers, and parents relished some time away from their children—especially after being in quarantine!"

Jackson's father, Jack Nelson, was an Olympic swimmer, world record holder and Olympic coach, and along with his wife Sherrill, he began a tradition of "teaching with care" in 1953 in Broward County, Fla. This was the inspiration behind AquaChamps Swim School, and with their new facility they aim to keep the tradition alive for many years to come. RM



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