Miren Oca has turned a love of teaching swimming into a successful, profitable business for nearly two decades.
Ocas two swim schools in Miami-Dade County, Ocaquatics Swim Schools, teach children as young as six months the vital skill of swimming.
An advocate for child water safety, Oca has been active since 1994 in the United States Swim School Association, an organization that represents nearly 400 swim schools nationwide, plus 30 outside of the United States. In October, she was named president of the USSSAs board of directors, a post she will hold for the next two years. Among her goals, she said, is to help swim schools promote water safety in their communities.
We spoke to Oca by telephone, and emailed her these questions. Here are her responses:
Q: Please tell me about your background and how you first began teaching swimming.
A. I am originally from Louisiana and I taught swimming lessons throughout high school and college. I graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Miami and I always thought I would continue on to medical school. But I decided to put it off a year, and I kept teaching swimming lessons and life-guarding for pool parties for private clients in backyard pools. Fortunately, this time helped me realize that I could make a career out of my passion of teaching swimming.
Q: When and how did you start your business?
A. I decided to incorporate Ocaquatics, Inc. in February 1994, and I secured my first leased location in a hotel swimming pool in South Miami later that year. I continued growing my business and staff each season. I expanded the program by adding leased locations in country club pools and private schools. However, all of our locations were outdoors and we were always competing against the weather.
Q: When did you build and open your own swim school?
A. In July 2009 I built our first year-round, indoor heated pool in a renovated warehouse space in West Kendall. It was a tough process and took quite a while to get the project completed. But in the end it was worth it to have one of the only indoor, warm water teaching pools in Miami.
Q: You opened a second swim school recently. Please tell me about that.
A. I opened a second indoor location in May 2013. It is right off the Palmetto near Tropical Park. This is a great location for us because it was so close to where the business grew up.
Our indoor locations really help us provide more consistent lessons, as we never cancel for weather, and our children can swim year round, rain or shine. Since we have moved to the indoor locations we have found that our swimmers are progressing at a much faster rate.
Q: Why is it important to teach children to swim?
A. It is really important to teach all children to swim especially because we are surrounded by pools, lakes, and canals.
Drowning is the leading cause of death in children age 1 to 4 in Florida.
Teaching a child to swim is a part of any water safety program. But even children with strong swimming skills need the watchful eye of a parent or caregiver anytime they are in, on or around the water. No child should ever be considered water safe or drown proof regardless of swimming experience. Children become safer by going through a high-quality swimming program, but they are never completely water safe.
Q: What is different about your philosophy about teaching swimming?
A. Our mission is to teach families to love swimming and to become safer, more confident and more responsible around the water. Our program provides swimming lessons for children of all ages starting at six months.
We encourage year-round, weekly swimming lessons for our students. The first goal we work on is to ensure that every child can jump in and return to the wall consistently and unassisted.
We then progress to extended swimming and having the children roll over on their back to get a breath. Once a child is ready we continue this progression into stroke development.
And most importantly, we all have fun while completing each of these goals.
Q: How much do you charge per child?
A. Our swim school is structured as a monthly membership program. The tuition is $72 per month to swim once per week. Children who swim multiple times per week or have siblings in our swim school receive a 10 percent discount off group lessons.
Q: Please tell me about your revenues and how your company has grown since you started it almost 20 years ago?
A. We have worked really hard and have been very fortunate, and the company has grown and been profitable each year. In the summer, we teach 3,100 lessons per week. The companys annual revenues exceed $1.6 million.
I absolutely love what I do and I am especially proud of the fact that we now employ 60 year-round staff. Many of our part-time employees are college students working on degrees in child-related fields. Some even make Ocaquatics their full-time career once they finish their degrees.
I started my business because I loved teaching children to swim. Now I can honestly say that I also love teaching teachers and developing leaders in my business. I think we are most known in the community for our friendly and enthusiastic staff.
Q: Please tell me about the U.S. Swim School Association and what your role will be.
A. The U.S. Swim School Association is a professional organization designed to promote the importance of quality learn-to-swim programs, and to help maintain high ethical and professional standards in this industry.
We have almost 400 member swim schools around the county and 30 international members. Together USSSA members help teach 500,000 children to swim each year.
I have just been elected president of the board of directors of the USSSA. My goal is to encourage member swim schools to be more involved in bringing water safety initiatives to their communities. I would also like to see the USSSA become a nationally recognized, brand name organization that families look for in their learn to swim provider.
Q: What is the next step for your business?
A. I am thrilled with the success of our two indoor locations and I am now looking to add a third indoor Ocaquatics Swim School in North Miami-Dade. I plan to open this new location in the spring of 2015.