Goals and challenges

Galter LifeCenter is a Chicago-based, adult-only medical fitness center that offers a variety of classes and services to its 5,700 members. In 2009, it also began offering swim lessons for children, but in a very unstructured manner. However, when Wesley King became director of aquatics and risk management in 2011, he immediately recognized an opportunity to improve its community outreach with a re-envisioned Aquababies program, while also increasing the facility’s revenue.

Of course, dedicating the time and space to accommodate the classes did not come without its challenges. Because the facility is not part of a franchise, nor does it follow prescribed programming, King and his team, including Aquatic Supervisor Vannessa Recinos, experienced hiccups as they explored a variety of ways to improve the structure.

They also had to retrain their lifeguards to address a new group of young swimmers. In addition they needed to ensure that they didn’t disrupt their original target membership.

How they did it

Today, Galter LifeCenter has a flourishing swim program that caters to 900 children a week. But it took a little time and effort to get to this level. The Galter team spent roughly nine months slowly rolling out additional classes, with the biggest jump taking place in the early part of 2012, when they realized Sunday morning presented a prime opportunity to beef up their offerings. Before the expansion, the center offered 6 to 10 classes per week; ultimately, the curriculum grew to 18 to 22. On Sundays alone, five back-to-back classes take place, each with 20 children and 20-plus parents in attendance.

Adding classes was only one piece of the puzzle. Initially, participants in the Aquababies class spent most of the 30-minute session playing and singing, and the style was more free-play. But instructors noticed the children weren’t advancing as quickly as they should, so King’s team assessed its technique and decided it was time for a change.

First, they developed specific holds for the babies, such as a football hold and the side hold. Then they came up with targeted prompts. They also began using special tools, such as a customized tot dock and plastic (not foam) barbells. Lastly, they implemented a policy that encourages participants to follow each part of the routine simultaneously, discouraging parents from moving off to the side to practice on their own. As a result, the parents became more comfortable, and the children began advancing at a much faster pace.

As it turns out, both the community and the facility’s members liked the consistency and change in the programming. Non members became members, and members began participating in lessons. Now, thanks to a successful children’s swim program, last year King introduced adult classes. In the last 18 months, Galter has gone from zero participants in the Adult Learn-to-Swim program to more than 180, and there also is a measurable increase in the adult private swim lesson service. All told, the programming helped the facility triple its aquatics revenue from $30,000 in 2011 to a net profit of $104,000 in January 2014.


-A re-envisioned Aquababies program helped the center triple its aquatics revenue
in just three years.

-The program grew organically by word-of-mouth.

-Adults are succeeding at Galter, too. The facility has a rising Masters swim team, and one of the Masters coaches won back-to-back Illinois Coach of the Year awards in 2014 and 2015.