By B.C. Manion
Therese Seal was just 9 years old when she gave her first swimming lesson.
“I got $5 for it. Do you know how much money that was back then?” said the woman who went on to found Seal Swim School, a company with three locations that has taught thousands of children the love of swimming.
Seal grew up in Wall Springs — just south of Tarpon Springs.
“My family owned and operated Wall Springs,” she said. “People from all over went there to picnic and swim. It was a spring-fed pool and lake.”
Growing up near the water helped her to develop a love for it, and a healthy respect for its potential dangers.
“I’ve always loved kids and I’ve loved the water,” Seal said, adding she had no idea she would end up opening a swimming school.
That happened after Seal began helping with swimming lessons when her two youngest daughters were in preschool. After being a helper, she was asked to take over the classes. Then some parents asked her to offer private lessons and Seal Swim School was born.
That was in 1980 and the school was at her house.
Over the years, the operation expanded and it now has three locations. Each is under the direction of one of Seal’s daughters. The one in north Pinellas is led by Shannon Seal; the one in south Tampa is led by Micha Seal Beatty; and the one in Lutz is under the direction of Erin Seal Grande.
The Lutz facility, at 19509 N. Dale Mabry Highway, provides lessons for children from Lutz, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Dade City, Zephyrhills, North Tampa, Carrollwood and other nearby communities.
Besides passing along the joy of swimming, Seal said the schools also help keep children safe, in a state which is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and where lakes, rivers and swimming pools abound.
“We lead the country in drowning,” she said.
“I have a little book that I actually wrote and published, and we base our water safety program on it,” she said.
“We go into preschools and elementary schools” to teach the program, if they request it.
“That’s our gift to the community,”
Water safety can’t be emphasized too much, said Erin Seal Grande.
When a child is missing, the first thing people need to do is to check the pool, or any other nearby body of water.
“Children are so fast. If a child is missing, even for a second, you go to the pool first,” she said.
The school preaches that families need a ring of safety which includes supervision, pool barriers, swim lessons, CPR knowledge and water safety education, she said.
Seal Swim School strives to teach not only pool safety, but also a love for swimming, Seal said. “It’s a gift for life.”
The swimming school likes to begin teaching children to swim when they are still infants, said Seal, who said she’s happiest when she’s in the water.
“We like to get them when they’re 6 months. They have no fear of the water. They love it,” she said.
The little ones come to the pool — some of them wide-eyed; others, crying.
“I tell the parents, ‘We’re strangers. It’s a whole new environment.’ We’re asking them to do things that the parents haven’t asked them to do.”
Then Seal tells parents: “Give us a little bit of time and they’ll be crying when they’re leaving, not when they’re coming.”
Besides teaching children the proper techniques, they also encourage fun, she said.
“You’ve got to have that fun,” she said. “Our instructors have to make it fun for the kids — they’re kids.”
Learning to swim is a unique experience for each child, Grande said.
“Just like a child walks and talks differently, each child is going to swim differently,” she said.
“The little ones learn to turn and float,” she said. Over time, they learn how to get to the wall and pull themselves out.
“Each skill that we teach, we start at the very basic and we build on top of those,” she said. “I have 4-year-olds out there that are doing freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and the beginning of butterfly.”
The school offers parent-tot classes for children from 6-20 months. It also has group lessons and private lessons for older children.
“We have levels. Each child goes into a level that’s appropriate for their age and ability,” Grande said.
“Each child is so different when they come in. We have a series of questions that we ask parents.
“We have to be sure that they go in the right spot, that they always are appropriately challenged,” she said. “If we have a child that’s a strong swimmer and we put him in with little ones that aren’t, he’s going to be bored and not get a thing out of it.”
Chris Anderson, who lives in Grand Hampton, has two children taking lessons at the school, 6-year-old Reese and 2 ½-year-old, Sage.
They’ve been taking lessons there for about a year, said Anderson, noting she doesn’t have the expertise to teach her children.
She gave Seal Swim School high marks.
“”We’re really happy with it,” Anderson said.
Children generally come once or twice a week when they’re beginners, Grande said.
If they’re committed to weekly lessons, they will learn to swim, she said.
The school also has a class that helps children perfect their swimming techniques and operates much like a swim team, she said.
“We try to get them so they’re ready to go. When they go to that swim team, they know everything. They just don’t have the speed.”
Like her mother, Grande said she simply adores the water and teaching others to swim.
“I have a degree in education and a master’s degree,” she said, but there is no place else she would rather be.
“It is such a wonderful thing we do.
“It’s a job. I still have those days that are better than others,” she said. However, she added, “I don’t how many people can go in to work and say they love what they do every day.”
Seal Swim School info box
For more information about Seal Swim School call (813) 229-7946 or visit, www.sealswimschool.com
Family Fun Night
Besides teaching children to swim, Seal Swim School, at 19509 N. Dale Mabry, hosts a family fun night each spring, fall and winter.
The Spring into Summer event is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. on Friday, March 25.
The event includes arts and crafts, face painting, inflatables and other fun stuff — except swimming.
All are welcome and the event is free, except for food items that are available for a nominal charge.
Water Safety Tips
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that between 2007-2009 there were 4,200 children younger than 15 who were treated at an emergency department for submersions in a pool or spa.
Children between the ages of 12-35 months accounted for 47 percent of the children receiving treatment.
The majority of deaths and injuries at residential settings involve children between the ages of 1 and 2, the commission adds.
Here are some ways to improve safety:
Never leave a child unattended at a pool or a spa.
Teach children basic water safety skills.
Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings.
Have a telephone nearby, to enable a quick call to emergency agencies.
If a child is missing, check the pool or spa first.
Learn how to do CPR.
Install a four-foot fence around the perimeter of the pool, with a self-closing, self-latching gate.
Having life-saving equipment such as life rings or floats available and easily accessible.
For more information, visit www.PoolSafely.gov
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