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As the aquatics chief of the National YMCA, Kay Smiley is witness to the ever-changing face of aquatic. She’s already worked through three different YMCAs in Dallas, San Diego, and St. Louis, and her goal is to keep up with the rapidly changing demographics of the local YMCAs.

Smiley’s headed up the organization’s 2,600-plus facilities for a little over two years, with more than 20 years experience in aquatics to back up her efforts. She oversees the continual process of upgrading management, support, research, development and programming. Currently, she’s working to keep all the local and regional YMCAs ahead of the change in demographics and aquatics trends.

To that end, the Y is responding to growing numbers who are turning to aquatic fitness, whether as post-therapy, aerobics or water-based pilates. “You don’t realize you’re working out and being fit,” she says.

The Y’s swim lessons, however, continue to be the organization’s mainstay with 1,728 lessons taught annually. Smiley says lessons have come a long way from simply “barking at the kids to teach them how to swim.” She’s encouraging more research to shape the Learn-to-Swim program, and is also responsible for the SCUBA program.

Smiley’s been involved with the joining of forces with the Red Cross and United States Lifeguarding Association. “We have a lot of research in the YMCA program,” she says. She believes using evidence-based research and standards are the best way to improve safety in aquatics. She says that because the Y owns the most swimming pools of all national organizations, it has a huge responsibility to ensure aquatic safety and to set an example for the rest of the country.

“Some days I’m so darn proud of every YMCA, and how they get to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “Not a lot of people get to say that about their jobs — to represent an amazing organization that makes a difference.”