Miramar couple offers free lessons to budding swimmers

Chris Oliver and his wife, Nancy Hennessey, at the Splash Jax pool on Davidson Street in San Marco

Chris Oliver and his wife, Nancy Hennessey, at the Splash Jax pool on Davidson Street in San Marco

For Chris Oliver and Nancy Hennessey, swimming is life.

The couple, who have spent nearly all their adult lives coaching at some of the finest swim clubs in the country, now want to give back to children from Jacksonville’s urban core, many who have never splashed in a pool or had the opportunity to learn to swim.

As the owners of Splash Jax Swim School, a for-profit business, Oliver and Hennessey make some money teaching swimming lessons using the four-lane, 25-meter pool on Davidson Street in San Marco, which they purchased from longtime Coach John Carroway in 2011. However, over the past three years, they have also given away more than $20,000 in swimming lessons to less fortunate beginners as part of the Swim Jax: We Swim for Others Foundation.

The couple, who have lived in Miramar since 1998, decided to start the foundation after spending part of the summer of 2013 teaching swimming to more than 100 children from Jacksonville’s urban core in the pool at the Episcopal School at the behest of the Boselli Foundation.

“We’ve been teaching swimming for a long time and that passion was always in the depths of our hearts,” said Hennessey. “But when we worked with the Boselli Foundation and saw the transformation that occurs, it really touched us in ways we had not known, and we realized we need to do this for more people. That’s when the shift came, and we decided to set up the foundation. We want to pass our love for swimming along with high quality instruction, teaching kids not just to swim, but to swim efficiently and safely,” she said.

Oliver agreed. “Working with the Boselli Foundation, and by giving out lessons on our own, has been extremely rewarding,” he said, noting they have taught Boselli swimmers for the past four years. “The Boselli Foundation is a different dynamic. There we work with true inner city kids, instead of [less fortunate] children from Hendricks Avenue Elementary or Assumption School where our daughter attends. With the Boselli kids, we have a little swim meet for them at the end of the session. To watch a kid compete for the first time, and see someone who had never been in a pool before or ducked his face in the water swim 25 meters freestyle – it’s incredibly fun. Their smiles are so wide.”

Hennessey said both she and her husband were pool rats as children and have spent nearly all their adult lives teaching and coaching age-group swimmers in three of the best swim programs in the country.

As parents of three children – 8-year-old Lucy and 14-year-old twins, Ty and Cameron, who have special needs – the couple decided to open their Splash Jax Swim School so they could also offer lessons to children with similar disabilities. “Swimming is good for kids with autism and ADHD,” said Hennessey. “It’s a peaceful place for them to be. Because they have many sensory issues, the water kind of holds them.”

The year-round Swim Jax swim team dues, which are set based on the swimmer’s ability to pay, help fund their foundation. Through their nonprofit, they also plan to reach out to children who qualify for the free lunch program at public school by offering free swim lessons, through Peachjar, a service that provides parents with digital flyers about after school activities.

“We know people have a lot of pride – they don’t want the world to know they are in need – and we respect that,” Hennessey said. “We are excited to have further outreach with these families, and want them to come to us and let us know that they need our help,” she continued, noting one family reciprocated by painting a sign for the swim school, and many parents often help by cleaning up after lessons.

“My greatest joy is watching these kids grow up. The swimming is awesome, but building that relationship with kids and watching them grow is pretty magical,” said Hennessey. “Accolades and medals are great, but its helping kids believe in themselves and become the best people they can be, that’s where the magic happens.”

Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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