Chris Gondek, who swam with the N.C. Aquatic Club and three state-championship teams at Carrboro High School, helps gets kids fired up before Saturday?s Swim-Best clinic at the Sportsplex.
Chris Gondek, who swam with the N.C. Aquatic Club and three state-championship teams at Carrboro High School, helps gets kids fired up before Saturday’s Swim-Best clinic at the Sportsplex.

May 13, 2015 1:16 PM

Over the past two-plus decades, Chapel Hill’s summer swim leagues have culminated in a Summer League Championship Meet which is typically held at Koury Natatorium on the UNC campus. There, hundreds of young swimmers vie for ribbons, medals, and team glory – a high point on which to end their short season.

For many, competitive swimming ends there for the year, and summer pools are once again the domain of cookouts and games of Marco Polo. Even for the most talented summer league swimmers, the huge transition to year-round club swimming can seem scarier than walking off the 10-meter diving platform that looms over the Koury Natatorium Pool.

Founded last fall by a team of committed coaches and former collegiate stand-outs, Club Kick Start (CSK) is seeking to help bridge the gap between summer swimming programs and year-round clubs, hoping to make the plunge into rigorous, high-level swimming a bit less of an intimidating free-fall via solid preparation and an emphasis on fun.

That ethos was clearly visible last Saturday at a Swim-Best Clinics staged by the Hillsborough Aquatic Club and CSK and hosted at the Orange County SportsPlex. The idea was to map a clearer route from summer teams to full-blown, year-round club swimming, said David Speese, a former UNC swimmer and part of the founding Club Kick Start team.

“It’s sort of a launch pad,” he said.

The planning started with Speese, Sarah Chaires, Jesse Mendes, and Chris Gondek, “and now we’ve added seven or eight coaches. This is our second Swim Best Clinic, and we’ve seen great numbers.”

“Club Kick Start was formed only eight months ago,” said Chaires, who was a collegiate swimmer and coach in Canada. “Last summer, accomplished former collegiate swimmers … came together to talk about how the sport of swimming could evolve in our community.”

From those discussions, Chaires said, a Club Kick Start, LLC was formed.

Chaires said the mission was to streamline the advancement of skills through mentoring by former collegiate swimmers in a fun and safe environment.

“This is unique experience for both the coaches and the youth in the community,” Chaires said.

Over the past year, O2 Fitness Clubs in Chatham County has hosted CKS sessions, which are drawing 125 swimmers and have added six more coaches, who instruct swimmers wait-listed for the North Carolina Aquatic Club, current NCAC swimmers, and up-and-coming summer league swimmers.

Chaires said CSK and its Swim-Best Clinics boast top-notch coaching and state-of-the-art methodology.

“We have Olympic Trial-level candidates, UNC record-breakers, former All-Americans, and over 100 years of international collegiate swimming experience,” she said.

Speese, a former standout at Carolina, said mentoring through CSK was a logical next step for him after graduating from UNC last Sunday.

“I started really getting into coaching when I finished my career swimming back in February,” he said. “I’d like to give back to the community something that I spent more than a decade of my life really into.”

Vinny Pryor, head coach of the Hillsborough Aquatic Club, said the idea for a Swim-Best Clinic was Chaires’ brainchild.

The 90,000 square foot Orange County SportsPlex ( in Hillsborough is one of the state’s largest recreational facilities and one of only a few in the US offering an ice arena, an expansive aquatics center, and a fitness center under one roof.

“This is something that Sarah with Club Kick Start put together,” Pryor said. “She contacted me and wanted to partner up. We had the facility with the big pool and all of the space, so I’m helping out and taking a lead on the coaching.”

“This is the first year we’ve done it, and Sarah agreed that we’d want to start smaller and see if it took off,” Pryor added. “We have around 10 more at this clinic than at the last one, so right there we’ve seen growth. We’re up to around 35 swimmers.”

“Club Kick Start started last fall; the Swim-Best Clinics just started this spring, and they’re intensive but fun,” Chaires explained, adding that small-group, individualized instructions with elite coaching, paired with video reviews, aim to advance swimmers’ technical skill and success.

“The kids are working in smaller groups, and we’re also going around and filming to analyze things we can see that they may not be able to see,” Pryor said, noting that young swimmers in the $85 clinic are aged 5-to-15 are grouped by experience and ability.

“We’re using videography today, and we’re sending video to the swimmers,” Chaires said at Saturday’s clinic. “Our coaches are in the water with the kids demonstrating that perfect dive or that perfect flip-turn.”

With the transition to year-round swimming, the threat of burn-out also becomes a factor that coaches take into consideration.

“My thought is to make it fun,” Speese said. “Kids don’t need to be cranking it out. If they’re going to be in the pool that much, it needs to be more about racing, variety, and fun. Everything else comes after that.”

Chaires said some swimmers had traveled from out of state to attend Saturday’s clinic.

“We have year-round swimmers that have come all the way down from Virginia,” Chaires said, “and we have swimmers that are local, that are with Club Kick Start, NCAC, Blue Dolphin, and some summer league swimmers.”

Pam Wachtel drove over two hours from Virginia to spend the weekend with her family locally and for her children Maddie, 13, and Zach, 11, to participate in the clinic.

“My kids already swim year-round, but I scheduled some private lessons over last Christmas break to stay in shape,” Wachtel said. “The coaches are just awesome. We’ve been down a couple more times, and it’s been perfect.”

Speese said that, with the Club Kick Start season just ending and summer leagues heating up, CSK will start up again in the fall.

Swim-Best Clinics, however, will be offered throughout the year for youth swimmers, and future Swim-Best Clinics may even be tailored for adult swimmers and triathletes, Chaires said, adding that she would also like to see instruction in water polo locally, if she can arrange for instruction by elites and former elites visiting locally.

While the plunge into year-round club swimming may look a little less precarious for local youth, thanks to Club Kick Start, the Swim-Best Clinics are certainly making a splash.

For more information, Chaires said to visit the Club Kick Start website at