by Lenore Phillips
One of the perks of living in Florida is the ability to be outside and active all 12 months of the year. Activities range from lounging at the beach to being an athlete at any age. Many residents of Wellington are members of a local running club, cycling club, softball teams and volleyball teams. Another team that is lesser known, but equally thriving for adult participants is the Wellington Swim Club (WSC), home of the Wellington Marlins Master’s Swim Team. This team of swimmers of varying abilities and goals is representative of the power of fitness to create a strong community with outstanding opportunities.
The Wellington Master’s Swim team has been a part of the Wellington Aquatics Complex since 2015. The program was established as an affiliate of the United States Masters Swimming Association and is geared toward the adult swimmer. The Wellington Marlins are just one of hundreds of such programs across the United States, with two teams in Palm Beach County alone.
While the word “masters” may sound intimidating, it should not. Many of these groups, WSC included, offer introductory programs for adults who are learning to swim for the first time, as well as swimmers who have been competing at a high level from childhood. The program offers coached workouts six days a week from head coach Lina Bot, and an array of assistant coaches.
Over the years, the Wellington Swim Club has gone through several iterations. The Marlins team was organized in 2019 by coach Patrick Billingsley. With the motto “Show Up, Swim, Have Fun,” WSC built its community with a strong mixture of top competitive swimmers, triathletes, open water swimmers and non-swimmers looking for a way to expand their fitness horizons.
“I had been a swim and triathlon coach for the better part of a decade when I decided to start a master’s team in Wellington,” said Billingsley, now the team’s former head coach. “I knew that we had some very competitive swimmers in the area, and we had a top-notch facility at the Wellington Aquatics Complex, so I decided to establish a team and see what would happen.”
Almost immediately, it became a vibrant program. The team would practice from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and eventually added a weekend practice day, as well as lunchtime practices for those not interested in being up before the sun. The team continued its steady growth and morphed into a recognizable player in the local athletic community, as well as a force to be reckoned with on the state and national competitive scenes.
During the COVD-19 pandemic, the program was forced to hit the pause button. The swimmers stayed in touch with one another on a private Facebook group dedicated to the team and even shared exercise plans so that collectively, they could stay in shape until the pool could safely re-open.
Through hard work by the coaching staff and the strict safety measures put in place by the Village of Wellington and the management of the aquatics complex, swimmers were able to return to the pool deck in May 2020.
The strength of the return came as a surprise to many on the team as new faces emerged in their community. After the forced confinement due to the pandemic, many people were looking for a safe, outdoor activity that also allowed them to be around other people.
“Swimming is a unique sport because you are always competing against yourself first and your teammates second, but you also act as a team because you are working out closely with people who are similar in speed and stamina to you,” Billingsley said. “The camaraderie that emerges in a swim team is so special because everyone feels like they are struggling in training and succeeding in improving their fitness together. It creates a completely unique and very tight bond. The pandemic only strengthened that in our team. It was really uplifting, considering the stress everyone was experiencing at the time.”
Besides the changes as a result of the new normal created by the pandemic, there were also changes in the coaching staff. Billingsley decided to step back from the program so that he could focus more time on his growing family, and Bot took over the role as head coach. She has spent the better part of the last 16 years teaching the fundamentals of swimming to age group swimmers as part of the Wellington Aquatics Complex staff and has been teaching competitive swimming for the last two years. Assuming the role of head coach of the master’s program was a change of pace for her professionally but one that she was eager to grow into.
“I love being a part of the swimmers’ progress and helping them to reach their individual goals,” Bot said. “What drew me to working with the master’s team is how inclusive it is. The team acts as a family, and everyone is so positive in how they push one another. This support system is especially meaningful during COVID-19 times. It also makes coming to the pool deck every day very positive and inspiring.”
In 2021, the team is focused on expanding its membership to include more swimmers and returning to competition. Through Bot’s directive, the team has expanded the number of coached workouts and opportunities for competition in Florida. There is hope that with Olympic competition coverage set to begin this month, the triumphs in the pool on the international stage will inspire even more new swimmers to follow the team’s guiding principles of “Show Up, Swim, Have Fun!”
If you are interested in becoming involved with the Wellington Marlins Master’s Swim Team, visit www.wellingtonswimclub.com.