A framed photo sits on Linda Cassidy’s desk at the New Port Richey Recreation & Aquatics Center. Cassidy, holding back tears, likes to show it off to visitors.
“It’s a birthday present from a former swimmer when she was 2 or 3,” Cassidy said. “It’s a picture of me teaching her to swim several years ago. It was one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten. It gets me teary.”
The aquatics manager is registering children for summer swim lessons at the center, and she is looking forward to her 29th year of giving swim lessons in Pasco County.
“These days, I am seeing the kids that I once coached on swim team bring their own children to me for swim lessons,” Cassidy said. “When I ask them why they aren’t teaching them themselves, their response is, ‘Because it was a good experience.’ I couldn’t ask for a better response.”
Cassidy has always had a love for and healthy respect of the water. Her father taught her how to swim in the lakes of New Jersey, and she spent summers at her grandmother’s house on Clearwater Beach.
“I still remember the smell of the lake,” Cassidy said.
After Cassidy made it to the national level in competitive swimming at Clearwater High School, her coach wanted her to prep for the 1968 Olympics, but Cassidy decided she wanted a more normal high school experience and opted out.
In 1973, Cassidy began coaching competitive swimming. 10 years later, she started the first competitive swim team in Pasco County, the Pasco Aquatic Club, at the New Port Richey pool.
Cassidy earned her water safety instructor certificate from the Red Cross in 1984.
“I wanted to learn more about the teaching and fundamental aspects of swimming, especially for young children,” Cassidy said. “Once I knew the basics, I learned everything I could about working with babies and preschoolers, and they have become my prime focus for swim lessons. Teaching young children to swim and to be safe in the water, especially those that are afraid of water when they first start, gives me the greatest satisfaction. I want a child to learn to enjoy the water and be comfortable in it.”
Cassidy said the American Association of Pediatrics used to discourage swimming lessons for children younger than 5 or 6 years old. So many drownings happen in that age range, Cassidy said, that it changed the age recommendations.
Cassidy now teaches children as young as 6 months about basic water safety.
“They can’t learn to swim at 6 months, but they can learn basic safety skills like holding their breath, grabbing on to the wall and floating,” Cassidy said. “If they haven’t touched the water before they’re 3, it’s real hard. I have kids who come in here and say, ‘I can’t go near the water. I’ll drown.’
Cassidy has passed along her love of the water to hundreds of kids over the years, including her children and grandchildren.
“My youngest child was offered two scholarships in swimming, but she was going into (a) different field at those colleges,” Cassidy said. “My son is an avid surfer. Being in the water is an element that is perfectly natural to them, and that’s the best part — when you see kids like that.”
Eight sessions of swim lessons will be offered this year, beginning May 21. All sessions run two weeks, Tuesday through Thursday.
Classes range from Parent Tot and Preschool to the American Red Cross learn-to-swim program, levels 1 through 5. A Development Stroke class and an Adult Scare-D-Cat and Technique class also are available.
Each class costs $30 for members and $40 for nonmembers. The Development Stroke class and the adult class have different prices.
Registration is done at the front desk from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
All instructors are certified American Red Cross water safety instructors and may be assisted by certified water safety aides. All instructors and aides are certified in CPR and first aid.
For information on lessons, call the center at (727) 841-4560 or see www.cityofnewportrichey.org.