Goals and challenges

Meeting the needs of very different demographics is a considerable feat. The seven facilities in Hialeah serve a variety of communities and, in response, the aquatics team has had to come up with inventive programming to ensure that everyone benefits.

How they do it

Hialeah has a standard learn-to-swim program for children, along with adaptive swim lessons for individuals with special needs who wouldn’t be able to learn in a standard class. The facilities also offer water aerobics, lap swimming and an arthritis class in a heated pool to support building strength while alleviating pain and stiffness in a buoyant environment. For those who are feeling competitive, there’s a Special Olympic team, synchronized swimming, or youth or adult water polo.

Meeting such a variety of needs takes careful planning that starts with design. Each facility is built with the features to appeal to all — even the younger patrons, with kiddie pools and splashpads. Seniors and those with special needs can enter the pools with ease because of zero-depth entries into the lap pools.

Then there’s an emphasis on scheduling, which is a crucial part of the success of the many programs Hialeah offers. Management’s willingness to listen to participants and show flexibility means the programs have continued to grow. An example of a growing area is the arthritis class. The session grew from 12 to 30 people, and the staff responded to patron concerns by adding another shift to meet demand.

The results of the arthritis program shows exactly why the classes have more than doubled. Several patrons who had difficulty walking when they started now can walk without walkers or wheelchairs. Daily tasks, such as reaching up for objects in kitchen cabinets, are easier after the exercise. In addition to word-of-mouth marketing by participants, the facilities promote the program at community events, and local doctors distribute fliers.

While swimming is very popular in southern Florida, the area around Hialeah — like others — has many low-income families who can’t afford the cost of lessons. The aquatics centers overcame this by applying for, and receiving, a grant from USA Swimming that allowed them to give more than 300 free swim lessons in the past two years.

The teams aren’t only a unit in the water; Hialeah works to create an environment that extends beyond the deck. To that end, the competitive swim teams include elementary-age students and up, with groups that compete internationally, plus two water polo teams (14 and under, and 14 and up), synchronized swimming for those over 5 years old and a Special Olympic team round out those that practice year ’round at the facilities.

The teams also feed into each other: Once a child is swimming, there’s always a team to move up to as the child's skills improve. Five tracks also mean that swimmers have somewhere to start before reaching the Gold Team, which practices a minimum of six times a week and competes around the world. Elementary-age children are introduced to competitive swimming in the Orange Team, which feeds into Silver 1 (for skilled 10 and under swimmers). Swimmers them move into Silver 2 (sixth- to eighth-graders who compete at the Junior Olympic level).