When Sue and Mick Nelson married, they each gained a partner, but the aquatics industry gained much more. The young couple followed in the footsteps of Mick’s mother, “Teach” Nelson, and opened a swim school outside Chicago. Now, as aquatic program specialist at USA Swimming, Sue Nelson is helping lead aquatics professionals into the future with a forward-thinking approach to operations and programming.

From the beginning, Nelson understood the physical, mental, social and recreational value in aquatics. But it was becoming an entrepreneur that first made her see marrying all aspects of programming also can make it financially viable.

Nelson is an ASCA Level-4 swim coach and a certified aquatic fitness instructor and personal trainer. She and Mick built their first indoor facility in Danville, Ill., in 1972. Two years later they formed Nelson’s Swim Supply, a retail and wholesale pool/spa and aquatic equipment business. They went on to establish NSS Inc., an aquatics facility design, building and business consultation company, in 1982. Nearly a decade later, they formed WaterWay Therapy Inc., reportedly one of the first and only privately owned and operated Medicare-approved outpatient aquatic physical therapy centers in the nation. In 2001, the couple formed Poolside Health & Wellness Center, which became a full-service land and water health and wellness center for the community.

According to Nelson, making each of these ventures successful has come down to finding creative strategies to include the widest audiences possible. As aquatics operations struggle, Nelson says managers need to serve the widest audience possible by offering a combination of competitive, fitness, therapeutic and recreational options. Since coming to USA Swimming in 2004, she has helped industry professionals understand how to do just that.

By cultivating the idea of total aquatic programming, Nelson aims to erase old notions that pools are strictly for one purpose — either competitive swimming or therapy/exercise. That requires actively bridging the gap between swim coaches and those who run “vertical” aquatics programs such as aquatic fitness or therapy.

“I’ve had to educate each side,” she says. That’s meant convincing swim coaches of the value of coexisting and even partnering with other types of programs, and explaining to those in fitness or rehab how swim teams generate revenue and contribute to the overall operation.

It all came together in 2005, when Sue and Mick, who’s director of facilities development at USA Swimming, began hosting annual Build A Pool conferences to bring their expertise, and their message, to a wider audience.