For some youth in Secaucus, swimming is more than just a hobby. It is a passion and, at times, a source of poetic inspiration.
“I like the rush of water flowing past my face,” said Harris Spahik as he stood next to the Recreation Center indoor pool shivering one April evening last week. A local resident, ten-year-old Spahik has been swimming since he was six. He said he aspires to become a professional swimmer. As a member of the Jersey Flyers Aquatic club, he swam in the Junior Olympics held at Rutgers University earlier this year.
Like Spahik, a number of young people from Secaucus, Hudson County, and throughout the state are part of the Jersey Flyers, a competitive swimming team that ranked eighth out of 52 teams at the Junior Olympics and has two nationally-ranked swimmers. The club has 125 members total.
All for the pool
“They are a really good team,” said parent Nermin Spahik. Both his daughter and son are members. He said that one of the reasons he moved to Secaucus was because of the swimming pool. Before moving to town, Spahik lived in Weehawken and said that driving to Hoboken to swim, albeit close, proved to be difficult given the traffic.
“They feel like a family,” said Spahik about the Flyers. His daughter Emma agreed.
“I like how you get to meet many different people,” said Emma. She has been swimming for seven years. “I hope it stays fun for me.”
“You have to make peace with the water.” – Juan Medina
“I just love it,” said Juliet, 13. She began swimming at the age of four and has been a member the past two years. She said that she loves that she can eat anything she wants because of all the calories she burns.
Juliet hopes to one day go to the Olympics. She made it to the Junior Olympics her first year in the program.
Serious about swimming
“Juliet told me she wanted to give up all activity and concentrate on swimming,” said Juliet’s father, Robert Nowak. He moved back to Secaucus four years ago after a short hiatus. He said he appreciates that the club helps his daughters set small goals and gain self-confidence.
On almost any given day at the local Recreation Center, you’re likely to see a number of kids swimming laps and alternating between freestyle, butterfly or back stroke. The short-course season runs from September to mid-March, while the long course runs during the spring and summer. Members train anywhere from four to six days a week. The club charges a fee for membership.
Head coach Ruben Sembrano from Hasbrouck Heights and Assistant Coach Juan Medina from Secaucus train children ages 8 to 18 to become better and more efficient swimmers. Sembrano, who began competitive swimming at the age of five in the Philippines, started the club in 2010. The club first practiced in Lyndhurst but then moved to the local Recreation Center.
Assistant Coach Medina is a man who wears many hats. In addition to being the assistant coach to the Flyers, he is also a Recreation Center lifeguard, a school bus driver, a boxing trainer, and an instructor of Judo at High Tech High School in North Bergen. He is a former Florida State Champion in kickboxing, and has been a resident of Secaucus for eight years.
Surrendering to the water
Medina conducts dry land training for the Flyers, which include exercises such as the “dead bug,” jumping jacks, push-ups, and pull-ups.
“You have to surrender. You have to make peace with the water,” said Medina. He described a swimmer like a dancer in search of the right rhythm. For Medina, it brings him great joy to watch students evolve and find their rhythm.
The Flyers club pays a fee to use the pool, which has been a much-needed source of revenue for the center. The town-run center has operated at a loss since it was opened in 2008.
“We feel at home here,” said Sembrano. “We are very happy here.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.