Angie Brennan directs swimmers as they prepare for a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Angie Brennan directs swimmers as they prepare for a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Back in the water

Top of the World Swimming hosts adult swim team practices, adult swimming lessons

Twice a week at the Kenai Central High School Pool, adults — from beginners to former collegiate athletes — have been gathering for formal swim team practices as part of Top of the World Swimming. After a few rocky years battling rising pool rental fees — even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down entirely — the program is larger than ever, and last week became the largest adult swimming program in the state by registrations.

“We had a bunch of fits and starts, slowly plugging away to get it to where it is right now, which I’m super excited about,” coach Angie Brennan said. “I’m kind of in awe and shock about how much of a following we have right now.”

The biggest obstacle for many years was the price of renting the pool, which increased from $35 to $150 per hour for adult users in 2019. That price was prohibitively high for the team, and kept them out of the water. Brennan, as well as Johna Beech, who together run the swim team, advocated for lower fees until the price was lowered back to $35 earlier this year.

“Tears have been shed, just super excited,” Brennan said about that barrier being lowered. “We went to that school board meeting and it was just amazing to see all the people in support of our program.”

Now, the team practices twice a week at KCHS, Monday and Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Practices run in the winter and spring, with breaks in the summer.

At a practice on Wednesday, every lane of the pool had multiple swimmers, making their way through workout sets together. Brennan said that was actually a smaller than usual group, as the road conditions had kept several people home.

The team features a wide variety of backgrounds and ambitions: Some swimmers have practiced the sport their whole lives. Some are beginners. Some are preparing for state and national competitions. Some are only there for the exercise. One is preparing for a trip to Costa Rica.

Earlier this year, six of the swimmers traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to compete in the Masters Swimming Spring National Championship. Brennan said she hopes to see even more swimmers compete in 2023.

Kendra Ashwell, who has been swimming for many years and competed in San Antonio last year, said she’s mainly there for a good workout, and has fun swimming with other people.

“We can stop at the wall, kind of yell encouragement at each other from lane one down to lane six,” Ashwell said. “Everybody wants everybody to do great and swim their best. Everybody’s just super supportive.”

Lucas Petersen, who used to coach the Soldotna High School swim team, said he comes for the workouts.

“It’s easier and more helpful for me to go to a team or to a group like that than it would be to just show up at the pool by myself.”

Amy Baxter, a triathlete, said she doesn’t have a strong swimming background, but joining the team has given her a “doable challenge.”

“My personal goal is to get to be good enough at swimming that I actually enjoy and feel comfortable doing races or competitions.”

That variety on the team makes coaching to everyone’s needs a little challenging, Angie conceded, but it makes for a fun and supportive environment.

“We’ll work to accommodate anybody.”

Another element of Top of the World Swimming programming is adult learn-to-swim lessons, for those who don’t know how to or are scared of the water. These will also be held at KCHS in late February through March. Brennan and Beech are certified to teach the courses — which will have the two in the water with three students each.

“It’s really low student to instructor ratios, which is awesome. The only problem is that we rent the entire pool for six people, so it gets to be costly. We’re trying to navigate that,” Brennan said. Finding more instructors would allow for more people in the water.

Holding the Adult LTS lessons is something Brennan and Beech are passionate about, and have worked to make a reality for a long time. They first taught the lessons together in 2019 before the rental fees were hiked, and haven’t been able to run them since. February is the targeted return of the program.

“The whole point is to teach people who are afraid of water how to swim,” Brennan said. “We’re surrounded by water in Alaska. … It always amazes me that there’s just so many adults that don’t know how to swim.”

Looking forward for Top of the World Swimming, Brennan said she wanted to see more swim team practices at more times, expand the offering to more directly target varied skill groups and bring on an assistant coach. For the swim lessons, Brennan said she’d like to find ways to make them more accessible and more widely available — citing rural areas in Alaska that don’t have nice warm pools to practice in. Even further ahead, Brennan said she’d like to host a swim meet.

For more information about Top of the World Swimming and Adult Learn-to-Swim lessons or to sign up, visit TOWS Master’s Swim on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Carolann Barum swims the backstroke during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Carolann Barum swims the backstroke during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lucas Petersen swims the butterfly during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Lucas Petersen swims the butterfly during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Coach Angie Brennan watches as swimmers complete a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Coach Angie Brennan watches as swimmers complete a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kendra Ashwell swims the butterfly during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kendra Ashwell swims the butterfly during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Angie Brennan chats with the swimmers during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Angie Brennan chats with the swimmers during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Coach Angie Brennan watches as swimmers complete a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Coach Angie Brennan watches as swimmers complete a workout set during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Swimmers gather at the wall to receive their next workout set from Coach Angie Brennan during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Swimmers gather at the wall to receive their next workout set from Coach Angie Brennan during a Top of the World Swimming practice on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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