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.