“There’s a 50-meter pool every couple miles down the street,” says Plantation Swim Team head coach Jimmy Parmenter.
He and Duffy Dillon, coach of FLA Aquatics, hosted last weekend’s Southern Zone Senior Long Course Championships for some of the United States’ best age-group swimmers at the Plantation Aquatic Complex.
In Miami-Dade, there are signs of change. Last week, an Olympic-sized pool opened at Gibson Park in Overtown, part of a $10.9 million Miami park renovation that includes a football field and baseball diamond.
There are local success stories as well. Ileana Rodriguez, a Palmetto High and Florida International University architecture graduate, has a solid chance of scoring a medal in the 100 meters breasttroke at the Paralympics Games, to be held in London Aug. 29-Sept. 9.
Rodriguez, 27, is ranked third in the world in her event and she credits the Flying Fish Swim Club, a team begun in Jamaica in the 1950s. The Flying Fish now trains at Miami Dade College under Olympics swimmer Andrew Phillips, who swam in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Phillips and his team, which offers learn-to-swim programs in Doral, plus age-group, Masters and training programs for the disabled at Miami Dade, helped put her in contention for a medal.
Rodriguez lost the use of her legs at age 13 when a spinal infection rendered her paralyzed from the waist down.
“She wheeled herself on the pool deck and wanted to know, ‘Am I good enough to swim with you?’ My question to her was, ‘Am I good enough to coach you?’ It’s been a six-year dream,” Phillips says.
“I’m so excited. We may be coming home with one of these medals from London.”
Rodriguez can’t wait: “The wheelchair disappears. I feel equal to everyone when I’m in the water. I always wanted to be part of the Olympic Games but believed I couldn’t compete after high school. This was always my dream. I went to Andrew and he saw I had a good chance to make it and that was the beginning.”
This kind of perseverance is what will keep swimming alive once the Phelps glow inevitably dims. That’s the challenge, Manganiello says.
“The dedication, commitment level for the family, that’s the hard part. It used to be, in the older days, there were more committed parents to keep their kids in the sport year-round. Now, that’s different. The family structure has changed. Kids are in different sports. There are a lot of year-round sports now.”
Nothing beats commitment, making all the practices, training hard and balancing the demands of athletics with academics.
“The Olympic Games get the hype and buzz going but once they get here they seem to forget what happens before the end-product,” Phillips, 50, says. “Kids and parents get excited when they see a Michael Phelps or a Rebecca Soni or a Missy Franklin, but when they realize they have to go through all the work to get to the end-result not all the swimmers stick it out.”
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