The Roosevelt Island Marlins Swim Team (RIST) is a parent-run, non-profit swim club offering year-round swimming to members of varying abilities and ages (3 and up). Started by a group of families who wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn to swim without leaving the Island, RIST has been a community fixture for the past 10 years. The idea grew from a simple offering of swim lessons to the establishment of a fully-developed, competitive swim team that participates in meets across the greater metropolitan area.
Today, RIST comprises more than 90 members from Island families. Operating under the auspices of USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, RIST offers a range of programs designed to bring out the swimmer in each child, according to his or her strengths and abilities, in a safe and secure environment. Our goal is to reach as many Island children as possible, and our mission is to develop quality athletes with a positive attitude and serious commitment to reach their individual potential and to support their team. RIST also strives to maintain one of the most affordable fees for swimming in the metropolitan area.
This past year saw the election of a new Board of Directors who work with me to position the team for growth in the future. We want to be able to shape children’s experience in a supportive way—from their first step into the water through each stage of development—until they participate on a competitive swim team. Our mission is to give every child the most amazing experience in swimming. Therefore, in addition to adding staff to improve the instructor-to-swimmer ratio, we are creating new group levels to enhance the development of individual swimmers.
This summer saw an example of this kind of redesign. Because we believe that kids will develop their skills best in a fun and warm atmosphere, we created multiple-level group lessons with a 1:4 instructor-to-child ratio. “Families’ feedback on the small-group instruction that we implemented this summer is overwhelmingly positive. Parents and young athletes themselves commented on how much faster they progressed,” says Olga Shchuchinov, RIST parent and Board member. “We are proud of the success that over 80 swimmers achieved in our summer program, many of them joining Marlins for the first time, and we hope they will continue swimming with us for years to come.”
As we enter the 2015-2016 season, RIST is continuing to improve, by also expanding the team levels from two groups to three. In the past, RIST had two age categories: Seniors (13 and over) and Juniors (12 and under). Each category has subgroups based on the level and commitment of swimmers. However, there was a gap between the young swimmers coming up through the Learn to Swim program and the ages covered by the existing categories. We needed to close this gap because we didn’t want to overlook the younger kids who are ready to compete. Therefore, to provide seamless entry to the exciting world of competitive swimming, RIST now offers the Future Stars division, a new category for those 10 and under who demonstrate mastery of strokes and meet technical requirements.
RIST strives to affect children in their lives outside the pool as well as in the water. Training to be an athlete entails much more than developing technical skills, as members see when they sign the mandatory Athlete’s Code of Conduct. Our swimmers learn self-discipline, punctuality, mutual respect, organization, the honesty of relations and the mutual backing, solidarity, and respect for the honor of team, intolerance for disturbance of the training process, and rules of behavior at practice. They have to plan carefully in order to make it to every practice on time. These skills—planning, organization and commitment—carry over into all areas of life, and will help children throughout their lives.
But it’s not all work! Marlins organizes many opportunities to just relax and have fun outside the regular practice and meet schedule, including holiday and end-of-year parties with food, music, games, and awards. The latest example was the 2014-2015 season wrap-up barbecue, held in the picnic area near The Octagon. Over 80 members, parents, and siblings joined in the races and other competitions while enjoying a wide variety of summer fare, topped off with a team cake and gifts for graduating members.
There are Marlins athletes who are continuing their swimming activities in college as well: Milos Gak for Colgate University; Nicole Rodriguez for Buffalo State University; Andrea Gasic for Baruch College; and Misha Shumikhin for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Swimming is one of the most valuable college sports, and good swimmers can earn full athletic scholarships and compete in NCAA divisions.