With swimmers as young as 6, the Retriever Aquatic Club at UMBC is going strong

Savannah Onyenorah just finished her sophomore year at Reservoir High School in Howard County, and swimming is a big part of her life. She took up the sport in elementary school and swam with a summer team in her neighborhood before shifting to the Retriever Aquatic Club at UMBC.

Onyenorah keeps a busy schedule at the club, which has pools and diving areas as part of the Retriever Aquatic Complex. She swims for about two hours a day Monday through Saturday, year-round, and now has been with the club for about seven years.

She is grateful for how its coaches help her in and out of the water.

“I think that each coach is very interactive with each of the swimmers and that motivates you to go faster and try harder in practice and in meets,” she said. “The team works you hard, and you get better really quickly.:

With about 170 kids, as young as 6 and as old as college students, in the program, the 32-year-old Retriever Aquatic Club is a fixture at the complex’s three pools and diving well inside. The director of the club team, Chad Cradock, is head coach/director of aquatics at UMBC and coaches both the men’s and women’s varsity teams.

Cradock, 44, said the club is not simply there to teach children how to swim, but also to educate them in other ways that will benefit them outside the pool. hey also want to give them lessons on lif

“I think for the kids, we’re teaching them from start to finish,” Cradock said. “Our mission is to develop them in swimming as well as life. We want to give them lessons in discipline, focus, drive and goal-setting.”

Cradock said that even when the club’s swimmers go off to college, they often return during the summer; many are from the general areas of Catonsville, other parts of Baltimore County and Howard County.

While the program doesn’t serve as a pipeline to UMBC’s swim teams, some of the participants do become Retrievers.

“The athletes feel very comfortable here, so they choose it as a school,” Cradock said. But, he said, in general “I’d like to see them graduate from the program and find a nice college that they fit in.”

Like Onyenorah, the kids in the program swim year-round. The club, which started in 1986, hosts meets and trains six days a week at a variety of times depending upon the age group. It’s not uncommon to have swimmers at the pool as early as 6 a.m. or as late as 7:30 p.m. Membership fees are about $900 to $1,700 per calendar year, depending on the age and ability of the swimmer.

There’s also a master program for those 18 and older, where people train before and/or after their jobs. Cradock said there are about 65-70 people in that program, which is also year-round and hosts meets. The club also has a group of divers that practices and competes, also from age of 6 through college. That group has about 30 members.

In other words, the pools, which Cradock said require 1 million gallons of water, stay busy. ere are three pools at the school with a diving well inside. Cradock said that between the three pools, they use one million gallons of water.

That helps Cradock and st as Onyenorah said, that the coaches who work with the swimmers try to get a good feel for who the individual is, and not just their talents in the pool. That’s important to the staff.

“They go through struggles, and we help them through their struggles,” Cradock said. “[We] try to teach them how failure becomes a positive. It depends on the individual.”

Erin Emrich likes the Retriever Aquatic Club’s approach. She has two kids who have been in the program for two years — 15-year-old P.J. and 12-year-old Taylor — and have really taken to it, and UMBC is not far from their Linthicum home.

P.J. swims six days a week while Taylor goes five, year-round.

“To know that somebody cares about the kids, more than their times, I think that’s huge,” Emrich said. “They don’t get frustrated every time they don’t [swim as well]. It does a lot for their self-esteem.”

Taylor began swimming at age 6 while P.J. started at 10, but they each play other sports. While swimming doesn’t dominate their lives, the Emrich children clearly enjoy coming to the club and being with the coaches and swimmers.

“They love it; it’s like a second family,” Emrich said. “They love being there. Their friends are there. The moms, we sit around and talk. They’ve become some of my closest friends.”

UMBC isn’t the only facility to offer swim programs in that part of Catonsville. The Greater Baltimore Swim Association, according to head coach Pat Underwood, swims at CCBC-Catonsville and will have about 170 children (ages 5 through high school) during their regular season of September through March. They have about 130 in the spring and 60-70 during the summer. They host a few meets each year and practice Monday through Saturday, year-round.

The Catonsville YMCA offers family swimming throughout the day for its members as well as lessons for those as young as 6 months old, according to Jennifer Umphlett, the senior swim and program director.

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