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Ursus

Diving into Westport Water Rats

Miko Coakley, Staff Writer

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“It’s very important to come to practice, and I’m sure to go because I believe that it’s important to get better, and it’s also fun.””

— Giselle Oldani

Starting from age 14, kids on the Westport Water Rat team must wake up at 5 a.m. in the morning several times every week and practice everyday for hours on end. The swimmers sometimes work so tirelessly that they feel exhausted, but still always try their best. The average swimmer in the team normally does 300 laps in a pool per day. The exhaustion at the end of every practice gets more and more intense, but the refuge that the swimmers find in the pool and the rush of adrenaline is what keeps them going and feel proud to be working so hard.

The team has many coaches, and one lead coach is Ellen Johnson. They give you feedback, and help you improve.

Every day of the week, except Sunday, the Water Rats undergo one and a half hours of practice as described before. Then, there are meets, which are swim competitions on the weekends usually from Friday to Sunday and last around four and a half hours on Saturday and Sunday and about two hours on Friday.

Some swimmers who make the cut in these meets can sometimes get pushed forward to compete in Massachusetts at MIT, which hosts a four-day meet with preliminary competitions held from 8 to 12 p.m. and finals in the afternoon, starting around 4 p.m. These last until the winner appears.

“I swim because I love it, and I started out competitive swimming because my teacher back in Hong Kong recommended me to start training,” said Jessica Qi, a member on the team. “It’s a great way to exercise, and I think many people would enjoy it.”

Abigail Goldstein, another member on the team, says swimming with friends helps her reach her goals.

“I love to swim, and being with the rest of the team just makes it easier. I think it’s great the team is getting recognition because I know that my teammates and I work hard to achieve our goals in swimming.”

Giselle Oldani, also a member on the team, says, “It’s very important to come to practice, and I’m sure to go because I believe that it’s important to get better, and it’s also fun. I think a lot of people would enjoy being on the team.”

In order to learn more about the Water Rats, “Ursus” reached out to the head age group coach, Scott VanKuilenburg and asked him a few questions about the team. When asked why the team was named the Westport Water Rats, he told us this: “The team was established in 1949, and from the beginning, it was a state champion. A few decades later, it became a year round program, and it started using the Longshore Pool during the summers. At the time, water rats were actually found in the pool, and the name was kept ever since.” When asked what the team was like, he replied with this: “The team currently has more than 200 swimmers. There is a head coach, a full-time age group coach, and several part time coaches. Swimmers from ages 6 to 18 compete at all different levels on the team, and college swimmers may return during their vacations. The team trains at the Strittmatter Family Aquatic Center on the Y’s Mahackeno campus. Water Rat swimmers are very strong, and are physically fit. They learn to set and achieve personal goals, be a team member, and learn how to experience the many aspects of competition. They learn time management skills, and many of the swimmers on the team have been accepted to NCAA Division 1 colleges.”

Then, Ursus asked him why he coached the team, and he told us this: “I grew up swimming and fell in love with the sport when I was very young. I really admired my coaches when I was a kid. I started coaching in Germany in 1986, and I realized that I loved helping young swimmers to succeed. Coaching gives me the opportunity to change someone’s life. I loved doing this, and the Water Rats seemed perfect for me.”

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Bedford Middle School's Scholastic News Source
Diving into Westport Water Rats