Local swim teams foster spirit of sport well beyond Olympics

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16-year-old Kaitlyn Pangilinan is one of the only original Bluffton Fins swimmers still on the team. Pangilinan started with the team in its first year, 2006. Now, as a high school junior, she specializes in distance freestyle events. PHOTO BY MARY BETH L

Every four years, the Olympics brings together the world's greatest athletes in a demonstration of skill, spirit and sportsmanship. This year, all eyes were set on swimming as Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, brought home his 28th Olympic medal.

But when the Olympic flame snuffs out and all the athletes go home, the spirit of swimming doesn't stop. It flourishes locally under the careful cultivation of the Bluffton Fins and Hilton Head Aquatics (H2A) swimming teams.

Both teams are club members of USA Swimming and registered non-profit organizations dedicated to bringing their unique brands of swimmer development and character building to their communities.

The Bluffton Fins was founded in 2006 by head coach Eric Kemeny with the goal of streamlining their comprehensive swimming programs to help better prepare their members for the future. Whether or not members are focused on competitive-level swimming, the Fins' programs help build solid exercise foundations to keep them happy, healthy and active.

"It's one thing to learn how to swim laps fast," said Kemeny. "But to stay healthy, well, that's priceless."

Hilton Head's H2A was founded in 1985, making it one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in Beaufort County. Head coach Mike Lane works under a three-part philosophy where parents, swimmers and coaches all have a specific role in making the team successful.

The teams work with members of all ages and have multiple skill levels to ensure everyone with an interest in the sport has a place to be.

"If you're totally new, we have a place for you. Once you start growing, we have a place for you," said Lane.

This year, both teams have plenty to be proud of. The Bluffton Fins celebrate former members Andrew Faciszewski and Greg Reed, who both competed in the Olympic trials in July.

H2A came in fourth in this year's state meet, sizing up their 30-odd members against some teams with upwards of 300. H2A members Lilla Felix and Chloe Corbitt each reached the national qualifier this year. Felix is set on a course to attend Yale University to continue her swimming career.

With both teams working so closely together, H2A and the Bluffton Fins hold their relationship close to heart as an important building tool to strengthen their goals of making swimming better in the community.

"We've been pretty supportive of one another," said Kemeny. "We share advice and information and get along really well. It's nice to have another program so close to us."

The proximity of the teams also allows for smaller scale meets to better prepare members for the more distant trips to Columbia and Charleston.

"It helps build our community. It's great to have their support," said Lane.

For more information on the teams, their programs and registration, visit the Bluffton Fins at www.finsswim.com and H2A at www.h2aswim.com.

Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Bluffton Sun.

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