Coaches and Directors

Coaches and Directors
Coaching Staff
Ray Benecki Founder and Executive Director

Ray Benecki is the founder and Executive Director of the FISH. He formed the club in 1991 for his oldest son Steven, when he was 4 years old. Coach Ray works mostly with the Awesome and Incredible FISH at Spring Hill and the Amazing and Fantastic FISH at Wakefield.  However, don't be too surprised to see him in the water with the Mini FISH on a Saturday night.

Coach Ray worked with Kate Ziegler for 9 years in which she set several world records and qualified to be on the 2008 Olympic Team in Beijing and the 2012 Olympic Team in London. He is an ASCA Level V Coach and was appointed Assistant Women's Coach for the USA National Team at the World Championships in March 2007 and he was also an appointed member of the 2008 Olympic Team coaching staff in Beijing.  

In addition, he served as an assistant open water coach for the USA National Team at the Pan Pacific Championships in August 2006. He served as Assistant coach for the Eastern Zone Regional Distance Camp in 2005, ran the National Distance Camp at the USOC in 2007, and was appointed by Mark Schubert as Special Consultant to the Junior National Team in Melbourne Australia.

In 2010 Coach Ray won the Dirks/Gould Award. He was nominated for the Golden Goggles Award Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2007. Ray has presented seminars on distance swimming for USA Swimming and the American Swim Coaches Association in 2005 and 2008. He was a collegiate swimmer at Cornell (1970-71) and Delaware (1972-75). 

Monika Paris Managing Team Director

Monika A. Paris

As Managing Director for the FISH Swim Team, Monika A. Paris ensures that coaches provide the best possible training to their swimmers and that FISH continues to be one of the premier U.S. swim programs. Her responsibilities include public relations, fundraising, recruiting, staffing, fiscal matters, and daily operations that come along with managing a non-profit organization. She also serves on the board as treasurer.

Monika holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business, specializing in hospitality, from the University of Houston. Her diverse experience and talents help her to manage FISH successfully.

Monika built several businesses and campaigns, including a web development company during the mid-1990s. Her passion for the outdoors inspired her to create Kaimont, a trekking business based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her running accomplishments include founding 50 Over 50, a healthy lifestyle campaign motivating people to complete a half-marathon in every state within the U.S., and twice finishing the highest half marathon on Mount Everest. In 2016, she launched The Georgetown Half, an annual fundraising campaign to raise money for girl's education in Nepal and Kenya. Last year she raised over $50,000.

Monika's philosophy for achieving goals requires her to be disciplined, determined and dedicated. Extremely well-organized, Monika uses her relationship skills and, more specifically, the ability to connect with people, to succeed professionally and personally. 





Nicole Erickson Head Coach - Amazing FISH

Nicole Erickson (Harmon) is the Head Coach of the FISH and primarily coaches the Amazing FISH program. During her time with the FISH, Nicole has had the opportunity to attend various meets including Olympic Trials, Senior Nationals, Sectionals, Zones, and the Elite Showcase Classic. In 2016, she was a top 10 finalist for the Fitter and Faster Age Group Coach of the Year. That same year, she was a presenter for the ASCA World Clinic, where she gave two presentations: one on coaching young swimmers and another on racing during practice. She gave her presentation on coaching young athletes as a USA Swimming Webinar later that year.

Nicole grew up in Maine and has been swimming year-round since she was 7 years old. She spent her age-group swimming days swimming for her club team Coastal Maine Aquatics (CMA). She moved down to Virginia to attend George Mason University, where she graduated in May 2012 with a degree in Health, Recreation, and Tourism with a concentration in Exercise Science. In her final semester at Mason, Coach Nicole was an intern with the Strength and Conditioning staff for intercollegiate athletics, where she learned an incredible amount of information regarding strength training. While Coach Nicole attended Mason she was a member of the varsity swim team for all four years. She specialized in sprint backstroke and butterfly and was able to achieve her Nationals cut in the 100 backstrokes, 50 freestyle, and 100 butterflies. Her favorite thing about coaching is being able to help all levels of swimmers achieve goals higher than they thought possible.

Curtis Din AAG and AG Coach

Curtis began his coaching career in 2000 with a summer league team in Virginia  Beach. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2006, he began coaching with TCAC, a USA club in Virginia working extensively with all age groups and skill levels. After moving to Potomac Valley Swimming in 2014 with FBST, he learned about the dry side of coaching taking care of administrative duties and hosting meets. His  swimmers have competed at  Junior Nationals, achieved USA Swimming national age group Top 10 recognition, and broken Virginia State Swimming records. Many have gone on to compete in NCAA programs. He encourages his swimmers to pursue knowledge and success in all aspects of their lives and continues to dedicate himself to the sport and the effect it has on kids.

Kimberly Schmidt Age Group Coach (SH)
I grew up in Suffern, NY and swam all year round from the age of 7 through college.  I began my coaching career in HS coaching summer leagues and helping small club teams in the area. While in grad school I had the opportunity to be a Graduate Assistant at Montclair State University. 
I spent my younger years swimming at a club team called Condors before transferring to a team called Empire. In my senior year, we broke the school record in the 500 Free and qualified for the state championships where I placed 6th. My time from 21 years ago is the longest standing time in my high school to this day and I was recently inducted to the Suffern Sports Hall of Fame.
I swam collegiately at the University of Rhode Island and majored in communications. I earned a bronze medal in the 1650 at the Atlantic 10 Championships as well as most valuable swimmer for my school.
After graduating I became an HS teacher.  I lead our boys' swim team to its first sectional title in 9 years. My team broke 17 records in 4 years.  I earned Coach of the year and our team was nominated for Team of the year. I qualified 12 swimmers for the State Meet of Champions in 2019 and 20 swimmers overall in my time.  
I am passionate about doing what you love. It is important to have a goal and keep fighting for it. 

Assistant at Montclair State University. 


Bruce Andersen Terrific FISH

Bruce grew up in Northern Virginia started his involvement in competitive swimming in 1968 in the NVSL. At 13, he began swimming year-round in PVS at Starlit Aquatic Club. Bruce enjoyed success in the NVSL, PVS, and in high school at WT Woodson. He also has competed in US Masters Swimming.

Bruce began his coaching career in the Country Club League while still in high school. Hired as an assistant coach, he had to take over the head coach role as the season began. The team went on to the league championship that season. He went on to coach in the NVSL and worked with winter swim programs. While studying at George Mason University, he took a break from all swimming, started a career in retail management, got married, and started a family. 

As his children got involved with swimming, he rediscovered his love for the sport. He became a coach, certified referee, and team rep in the colonial Swim League, where he was active for 20 years. In 2000 he started as an assistant coach at Westfield High School, taking over the head coach position in 2003, and continued until 2019. In 2001 he started coaching in PVS as an assistant at Herndon Aquatic Club. In 2007 he took over as the head coach, where he coached until 2017. During that time, he coached a 2-time  Olympic Trials qualifier, NCAA Finalist, several Junior National swimmers, many Zone team swimmers, including a Zone record-setter and champion. He has been a 3-time PVS Zone Team assistant coach. 

Bruce has coached all ages of swimmers, from pee-wee to Masters level. He has completed all of the ASCA training for Level 5, along with many classes focusing on strength training/injury prevention and mental health/sleep health. He loves the thrill of teaching swimmers life lessons, how to swim fast, and stresses having fun while doing it.

Joseph Peppersack


Joey Peppersack has joined the FISH swim club as an assistant coach after an extensive swim career of his own. Peppersack had his right leg amputated at the age of 4 and started swimming at nine years old. Peppersack swam with NOVA in Richmond for six years, University of Mary Washington varsity all four years, and was a United States national team member for six years. In 2017 he traveled to Germany and earned Gold in the 4x100 medley and 4x100 freestyle relays, plus a bronze in the 50 backstroke. In 2019 Peppersack traveled to Lima, Peru, to compete in the Para-Pan American games, where he received a silver medal in the 100m Backstroke. At the height of his career, he was selected to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics and placed 7th overall in the 100m Backstroke.

Peppersack also has prior coaching and teaching experience. He was the head coach of a summer league team and taught swimming lessons at the YMCA for two years.

Joey believes that all swimmers, regardless of current ability, have the potential to succeed through discipline, accountability, and commitment. 

Scott Cleal Mini Coach

Scott Cleal began swimming at the age of 6 in Charleston, S.C.  with the Coastal Carolina Novice Swim League (CCNSL). During his swimming career he competed in Virginia Beach (VBPR), San Diego, and within the NVSL. While attending Mt. Carmel H.S. in San Diego, CA and later West Springfield High School in Springfield, VA, he not only swam on the respective varsity teams, but he also competed in Cross Country and Track.  He completed his B.B.A. at James Madison University.

Coach Scott loves to run and he has competed in 5ks as well as in marathons. He has also placed top 3 several times in Biathlons (Swim, Run) and Triathlons including USTS and Championship level competitions.

Coach Scott enjoys coaching swimmers and the challenge of incorporating constantly evolving new techniques and training methods.  Swimming has always been a life-skill for Scott and he still actively swims and even competes from time to time.  Scott has been a USA Coaching Member since 2010 and has coached all ages of swimmers.

Luke Watling Mini Coach

I have been swimming since I was 7 years old, for a team in the Herndon Swim League. My favorite strokes have always been breaststroke, butterfly, and distance freestyle. I started swimming year-round when I was 12, and continued all through high school, finishing my swimming career in club swim at college. I recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. 


My love for coaching started as a volunteer junior coach in the summers. I was an assistant head swim coach for a summer team in the Herndon Swim League for 3 years, and head coach of that team for 2 years. I coached a year-round team in Baltimore during college. I am also the head coach of a Colonial Swim League team for the 2022 season. I am looking forward to expanding my coaching career with the FISH, especially in working with the MINI’s group. 

Art Vera Mini Coach

Art Vera started his competitive swimming career at 8 years old swimming for teams in the Colonial League, NVSL, and USA/Potomac Valley Swimming.  Along with honing a competitive spirit, making lifelong friends, and instilling discipline, swimming gave him the opportunity to travel all over the Nation.   He competed at meets as far north as Buffalo, New York to as far west as Santa Cruz, California and the sense of adventure has stuck with him.

Art began coaching at 17 for the Belle Haven Country Club.  From there, he went on to receive the American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certificate to teach swimming on an individual level at pools for Fairfax County RECenters and currently for the past 4 years at the McLean Racquet & Health Club.

Even with his time as a competitive swimmer long behind him, swimming will always be essential in Art's life.  Swimming is still teaching him new skills and taking him new places.  At college in California, he learned to surf, and has since surfed the coasts of several states and some countries including Mexico, Uruguay, and Japan.  This past year, he lived abroad in Japan teaching English and American culture, and was fortunate enough to teach swimming as part of the Physical Education curriculum.

Art will be working with the Mini FISH at Spring Hill RECenter.

Jo Podlasek Mini Coach

Coach Jo Podlasek joins us as a Mini FISH coach.

Celebrating a December birthday, Jo spent her first summer in the water making her a true 'water baby.'  Since then, she has spent all her summers swimming and has taught private lessons in our area for almost 10 years.  

She grew up in McLean, attended Bishop Ireton High School and has a Bachelor of Science degree from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  She is also involved in the community as a paramedic with the McLean Volunteer Fire Department.  

Outside of swimming, she enjoys the sport of running.  She has run many races from charity event 5Ks to 50 mile ultra marathons.  Jo comes to us with a great attitude and diligent focus that she has developed through years of experience as a teacher, paramedic and ultra-runner.  

Jo has a love of swimming but even more she is eager to share her sense of mental strength with our young athletes.

Wallis Hicks Mini Coach

Wallis’ first love was dance, but she has had a life-long connection to the water and swimming. As an adult, she joined a Master’s team and is now doing open-water swim competitions for fun.

Wallis was a recipient of two California Arts Council Grants - Artist-in-Residence and Artist-in-Schools - and has extensive experience teaching dance and creative movement to children.  She brings that teaching experience and knowledge of kinesiology/ body mechanics to our program. Wallis has been teaching private and group swim lessons in the McLean area for 4 years, and recently added coaching a Master’s swim team in Rockville. This is her second year coaching with the FISH.

Board of Directors
Ray Benecki CEO
Monika Paris Treasurer